Book review: Down Among the Dead Men by Peter Lovesey

Down Among the Dead Men byPeter Lovesey
Down Among the Dead Men byPeter Lovesey

For over forty years, England’s award-winning crime writer Peter Lovesey has been delighting us with his clever and entertaining mystery novels.

His very first book, Wobble to Death, published in 1970, won a writing competition and the master storyteller has never looked back, garnering fistfuls of accolades and prizes in the world of international crime writing.

Lovesey’s fans adore his complex, perfectly plotted mysteries and the Peter Diamond series, which focus on a CID boss with a fine line in crime detection and cynicism, is that tantalisingly perfect blend of intrigue and humour.

Down Among the Dead Men is the fifteenth outing for Bath’s intrepid Detective Superintendent Diamond, and both the cop and his talented creator are on top form in a case that features high-spirited schoolgirls, eccentric artists and murder most foul.

Car thief Danny Stapleton has a new ‘gizmo’ that will get him his favourite motor… a BMW 3 series. The illegal device simply unlocks car doors and his luck seems to be in when he nabs one from outside a pub in Littlehampton in Sussex.

But when the hapless thief is stopped by police on the way to Chichester, the nightmare begins. The police find a man’s body in the boot and Danny is convicted of murder and locked up with a life sentence.

Seven years later, Peter Diamond finds himself in Chichester, much against his wishes. His irritating boss, Assistant Chief Constable Georgina Dallymore, has made him accompany her on a Home Office internal investigation of possible police corruption.

A senior detective has been suspended for failing to follow up on DNA evidence that linked a relative to Danny Stapleton’s murder case, a serious breach of ethics if the allegations are proved to be true.

Diamond is less than thrilled to be heading out on a road trip with his boss to investigate a fellow officer, but he becomes much more interested in the case when he learns that the suspended officer is his old friend DCI Henriteta (Hen) Mallin, a respected officer not known for making mistakes.

Meanwhile, Constance Gibbon, an art teacher at a private girls’ school, has disappeared without a trace. None of the students appear to care, especially as her replacement is hunky new teacher Tom Standforth who owns a fabulous vintage MG.

As Diamond asks questions, he begins to notice unsettling connections between the seven-year-old murder and the missing art teacher. Diamond and Dallymore have stumbled into a complicated web of related crimes but will Diamond be able to disentangle them?

With his trademark style and panache, Lovesey takes us through a mesmerising maze of clues and conundrums as the wonderfully wise and witty Diamond follows his instincts and makes sense of a case that has more twists and turns than a snakes and ladders board.

There is no greater satisfaction for crime fiction fans than to witness Lovesey’s talent for tying up what seem to be disparate loose ends into one perfectly constructed conclusion.

But first we are invited to enjoy the company of Peter Diamond, a dogged detective whose gift is to make wry observations as well as to visually observe, and whose rollercoaster relationship with obtuse boss Georgina Dallymore is the wryly funny sideshow to a fascinating mystery.

So sit back, relax and marvel at a master at work…
(Sphere, paperback, £8.99)