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by Peter Lovesey
Soho Crime, February 2022
385pp pages
ISBN: 1641293616

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In a foreword, Peter Lovesey, who turned 85 last September, tells us that the collection marks the appearance of his hundredth short story. He also adds that the first, "The Bathroom," was rejected by Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, but did attract an encouraging note from Ruth Rendell when it appeared in Great Britain.

"The Bathroom" does make an appearance in this volume, but not as we might have anticipated as first on the list but is in fact the last, followed as it is by a factual account of the notorious bride-killer George Joseph Smith (could there be a more generic name?) who drowned three wives over an eight-year period in the second decade of the 20th century. The whole affair came to be known as "the Brides in the Bath." The British, who seem to produce serial killers at an alarming rate, appear to take a certain comfort in tagging the more notorious with titles drawn from the popular press. In "The Tale of Three Tubs," Lovesey tracks down the actual baths, two of which are still extant, in which the brides met their deaths.

Also in his foreword, Lovesey remarks that he looked for a common element in his later stories and found that most are about groups or individuals who have an "interest or a way of life that is unexpectedly visited by crime." "The Homicidal Hat" involves a group that is involved in fictional crime but visited by an attempted murder. A husband produces an elaborate hat for his wife to wear in the Best Hat competition at Malice Domestic, the convention that brings together authors and readers devoted to the traditional mystery. The hat, a tribute to Dorothy L. Sayers, is booby-trapped but as is so often the case, things do not go quite as planned.

Many of the stories do involve the unexpected encounter with crime, but there is another theme that is striking. And that is Lovesey's successful attempts to align his work with the roots of the genre. The protagonist of one of the author's series, Peter Diamond, appears in a Christmas story, "The Three Pie Problem," that reproduces in miniature the substance of the longer novels. Diamond is a police detective, but he operates independently, like the non-professional detectives dear to readers of traditional mysteries. The title is a nod to one of the most famous of all, Sherlock Holmes.

The founder of the detective story, Edgar Allan Poe, is subjected to a harrowing interview in "The Deadliest Tale of All," in which his interlocutor accuses him of dishonesty, imitation, and general lack of scruples. Poe is hard put to defend himself but must admit to some of the charges against him. The ending of this is a stunner and provides something of a solution to one of the mysteries that still surround the troubled poet. And the opening of the longest tale in the collection, "Remaindered," says it all: "Agatha Christie did it. The evidence was plain to see but no one did see it for more than a day."

The collection is furnished with a lengthy catalogue of Lovesey's works which is helpful, but it would have been nice to have been able more easily to recover the dates of the short stories that are included in this selection.

But before we get to the catalogue, there is a witty ballad in which one fictional detective remembers her first encounter with another, older and more famous but equally fictional detective in the sort of place neither of them would have been caught dead in their own books. It's slightly risqué, funny, and certainly not to be missed, like everything else in this satisfying collection.

§ 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, January 2022

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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