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by Peter Lovesey
Soho Crime, December 2017
416 pages
ISBN: 1616959053

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It's hard to believe, but it's been more than twenty-five years since Peter Diamond first made his appearance and he was a Detective Superintendant at the time, not some lad out of police school, still damp behind the ears. He hasn't aged all that much since then, though his character has deepened and the world around him has leapt forward technologically, even if Peter has only slowly and grudgingly adapted to the wonders of modern communication. Perhaps his being located in Bath, a city that embraces its past with enthusiasm, has preserved him as well as its architecture.

Or, more likely, his agelessness is down to his author's brilliant solution to the hazards of managing a long-standing series. Diamond has remained in vigorous middle age while still being battered by both stress and tragedy, sometimes overwhelmed by emotions, but always intelligent, canny, and steady as a rock. By fixing him in age, Lovesey has avoided the trap of having him become superannuated in the course of time; by allowing the world around him to change, he can admit contemporary concerns and problems without anachronism.

But why we really look forward every year to Peter Diamond's return is Lovesey's calm professional mastery of the elements of writing crime fiction. From the opening pages of this one, in which a child is watching a house being demolished with a wrecking ball only to see a corpse seated in a chair in a newly revealed attic, to the grand finale at a party at a hyper-modern country house on the brink of an infinity pool, Lovesey keeps us engaged, informed, and pleasantly baffled as his complex plot unfolds.

The corpse, well, skeleton, really, has been in the attic a long time. Dressed in the outfit made famous by Beau Nash, the 18th Century "King of Bath," with his signature black wig beside him, perhaps he is the Beau himself, though what he might have been doing in the attic of a row house in what was, even in Nash's day, a seedy part of town, is hard to fathom. But Diamond is intrigued - if the remains are really Nash's, then this will be the case of his career.

It's a possibility that intrigues Peter's boss, Assistant Chief Constable Georgina Dallymore, for other reasons - she's struck up an acquaintance with the present head of the Beau Nash society and made friends with his wife. So she surprises Diamond by encouraging him to pursue the mystery of the skeleton in the demolished building. It's a enquiry full of speculation, disappointments, and wrong turnings to the point that Peter suspects that the spirit of Beau Nash is thwarting him. Still, both he (and the reader with him) discover quite a bit about the man chiefly responsible for Bath's becoming the most fashionable resort in England at the time. It also leads him to make the acquaintance of the fictional Beau Nash Society, which in turn requires him, much to his embarrassment, to don 18th century costume in order to attend a meeting. Then, a decidedly contemporary killing takes place, this one in the Royal Crescent during a fireworks display and illumination anachronistically linking Jane Austen and Nash.

It is a combination of solid police work on the part of Diamond's team and a flash of inspiration sparked for Peter by what that investigation reveals that leads to a solution to both deaths. The revelation of whodunnit is pretty much guaranteed to surprise even the most attentive of readers. It is a conclusion moreover that is both emotionally charged and characteristically humane, so that we are satisfied on several levels at once.

Although there's not a sprig of holly nor a flake of snow in sight, BEAU DEATH would make a splendid gift, even for someone who is new to the series, since it stands firmly on its own two feet. Indeed, it would be a double gift, since it would open the door to the previous sixteen of Peter Diamond's cases, which should keep the recipient happily engaged until next Christmas, when a new one likely will appear. But of course, you should read it first.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal. She's been editing RTE since 2008.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, November 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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