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by Peter Lovesey
Soho Crime, July 2016
400 pages
ISBN: 1616957581

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Ever since the classic detective story emerged in the 1920s, there have been valiant attempts to define and restrain it. And just as quickly, writers pushed back against the constraints, constantly striving to expand the genre to allow it to become what it is today, a loosely-defined body of fiction that can range from mixture-as-before formulae to wildly inventive riffs on crime. And a good thing too, for both writers and readers.

But every once in a while, a reader might crave a return to the classical constraints of the formal detective story - a sound, professional approach to crime, with clues readers can ponder, red herrings to lead them astray, and a brilliant display of ratiocinative talent to expose the murderer and bring the perpetrator to justice. And who better to turn to for all this, along with an impeccable style and sly wit, than that consummate professional, Peter Lovesey? All right, brilliant bouts of ratiocination are not his detective's strong point (and just as well, too), but the rest is all there, as this latest in the Peter Diamond series attests.

Peter is called out to the scene of an accident that has left one policeman dead and another gravely injured. He is to discover what caused the accident and, if possible, to acquit the police driver of all blame. But as he surveys the scene, he comes across the barely-living man whose motorized tricycle was the cause of the accident in the first place. Diamond gives him CPR and keeps him alive long enough for the ambulance to arrive.

For that reason he has a certain emotional involvement in the case, a connection that is badly shaken when he begins to suspect that he might have saved a serial killer, a man responsible for the deaths of a number of elderly persons involved in an amateur railway enthusiasts' society. Although he is not happy to think that he may have preserved a monster, Diamond is not one to refuse to follow all the clues in a case and to discuss them with his team, inviting them, if they need an invitation, to knock holes in his theories.

The reader, of course, follows happily along, down all the byways and false leads, after one misdirection or another, even when warned that the murderer has laid a trap for the unwary. The warning comes in a journal left on the suspect's computer, short excerpts from which also appear at various intervals, suitably italicized as is the current fashion for serial killers, though far more restrained than these forays into an unsound mind tend to be. Trust me, however; as a warning, it won't help the reader any more than it helps the cops.

Lovesey's plotting is superb and he definitely plays fair with the reader according to Ronald Knox's Golden Age ten commandments. But this is a contemporary detective story all the same. Its modernity shows especially in its main character, Peter Diamond, who lacks the cold intellectualism of his predecessors, who is prone to doubt (as well he should be), and who is well aware of the social circumstance and individual consequences of the crimes he investigates. He is, as well, a man perfectly capable of inventing a pet cat and of carting around a stuffed squirrel the size of a Saint Bernard and dressed as a train conductor.

I am not ashamed to admit that I was absolute rubbish at unpicking this puzzle. Perhaps you'll do better, but I bet you'll find it just as delightful as I did.

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, July 2016

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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