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by Peter Lovesey
Soho , September 2009
336 pages
ISBN: 1569475989

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

There are recurring series characters that I tend to look on as old friends, even if I see them only once a year, if that. They change a bit while they're away - put on a few pounds, break up with their wives or husbands or worse, lose them altogether, get a little older, a little crankier or a little more mellow, but on the whole, they remain a reassuring and continuous presence in my reading life. Peter Diamond is just such a one. So I am delighted to see him back with his tenth case.

Lansdown Hill, near Bath, is a site rich in history. It may hold a barrow dating back to the Iron Age and it certainly was the scene of a Civil War battle between the supporters of the king and the parliamentarians in 1643. The Cavaliers won, if only just, and, as SKELETON HILL opens, a re-enactment of the event is underway. Two temporarily dead pikemen are sharing a lager when one of them turns up a human bone. One of the pikemen is, in real life, an historian and hopeful that they have uncovered the remains of an actual combatant of 350 years ago, while the other persuades him to restore the bone to its resting place and get on with the battle.

It soon transpires that the bone belongs to a woman and when her skeleton is disinterred, she proves to have died only about twenty years ago and to be missing her head. Shortly thereafter, another body turns up in the vicinity, this one male and very recently deceased, a victim of the classic blow to the head.

Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond is convinced that the two deaths are somehow linked, though no one else seems to credit his hunch. So convinced is he, however, that he even arranges to shift his investigation to Bristol from Bath, for him an enormous sacrifice, so that he can oversee the cases. Luckily, his notorious mechanical ineptitude soon sees him returned happily to his own city..

What follows is the unfolding of a complicated and ingenious plot that fully utilizes all of the features of Lansdown Hill - Beckford's Castle, the cemetery, the race course, and that, like Rupert Hope, the history tutor who drinks a fateful beer in the first chapter, brings its past to life in surprising ways.

Of course, there is Lovesey's usual gently devastating humour (though perhaps Peter's boss, the annoying Georgina, could be elevated to even higher rank and got out of his thinning hair). Lovesey has even managed to find a clever variation on the rather tired Masonic theme, something I would not have thought possible.

In short, even if you find the solution to the mystery more readily transparent than did I, there is a great deal to entertain in this faultlessly plotted, impeccably written, and altogether satisfying tenth appearance of Peter Diamond.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, August 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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