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by Peter Lovesey
Soho Press, April 2008
304 pages
ISBN: 1569474907

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Jo Stevens, 36 and unattached, has only one close friend, Gemma, a 30-something employee of a printing firm who detests her boss. Gemma relieves her feelings by inventing elaborate ways of disposing of him without actually getting caught, an exercise that Jo finds immensely entertaining. But when Jo is distracted by a taciturn naturalist named Jake and Gemma's new boyfriend, Rick, seems to take Gemma's flights of fancy all too seriously, they begin to pall. And once Jo starts finding the bodies of drowned women, joking about murder ceases to be funny.

Of course, to DCI Hen Mallin of Chichester CID, murder is never a laughing matter, especially when there are three bodies, all found in or near water, all murdered. Luckily, there is a full slate of possible suspects from which to choose the husband of one, an arrogant academic who seems less than devoted to his wife, the tongue-tied Jake with a prior conviction for GBH, Gemma's boss, mysteriously absent, or even Rick, whose contributions to Gemma's fantasies are perhaps a shade too enthusiastic.

Sadly, none of the above seem to have connections to all of the women, a circumstance that encourages Hen and her sidekick, Stella Gregson, to construct imaginative scenarios that are hardly less inventive than Gemma's own to explain what might be going on.

The cigarillo-smoking Hen Mallin first appeared in THE CIRCLE and it is good to see her once again. Admittedly, my heart belongs to Peter Diamond, Lovesey's other series copper, as Hen has never quite come into sharp focus for me. Still, Hen has her strengths and Chichester and the south coast generally are fresh venues for crime fiction.

What will especially please those who treasure puzzle mysteries is the ingenuity of the plot. Lovesey has figured out how to update the traditional mystery while retaining the features that made it so entertaining. The characters are thoroughly 21st century, but the mode is pure 1930s. All the clues are there and presented with admirable fairness. I was absolutely certain I knew whodunit. I was absolutely wrong, and I loved it.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, March 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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