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THE TOOTH TATTOO
by Peter Lovesey
Soho Crime, April 2013
348 pages
$25.99
ISBN: 161695230X


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Perhaps it's due to the unsettling events of recent weeks, but I really felt the need for a good, solid, professional bit of crime fiction. Who better to look to than Peter Lovesey and the old master does not disappoint in THE TOOTH TATTOO, in which Peter Diamond demonstrates that though he may be a bit set in his ways, he is still flexible enough to learn a few new tricks.

You know you are in safe hands from the opening chapter, which takes place seven years before the main action. A young violist, Mel Farran, is accosted by an attractive young Asian woman as he leaves the Royal Festival Hall. She wants his autograph; he is pleased and surprised. As he shifts his fiddle to comply, someone snatches the instrument and makes off with it. Some minutes later, following in hot pursuit, Mel sees it apparently tossed away into the river. The crime seems both pointless and gratuitously cruel, and the reader is hooked.

Shift forward to the present day. Peter Diamond and his lover Paloma Kean are in Vienna on a long weekend. Peter is pursuing his obsession with classic film, Paloma hoping for something a bit more romantic than the sewers where Harry Lyme last was seen. Walking over a bridge across the Danube, they happen upon a small shrine in memory of a young Japanese woman whose body had been fished out of the water some time earlier. The difference between the way Paloma and Peter react to the fact of her fate gives rise to what Peter fears is an irrevocable rift between them.

Back in Bath, yet another Japanese young woman bobs up in the water, this time clearly murder victim. She would be next to impossible to identify save for the fact that she has what remains of a tooth tattoo - a bit of body art in vogue in Japan. The main theme is now established, death by water, and Lovesey will develop it along with some secondary themes, loosely structuring the tale after Beethoven's Grosse Fuge, in, it has to be said, the lightest, least ponderous way possible.

THE TOOTH TATTOO is a bravura performance - the members of the quartet all come under Diamond's close inspection and Lovesey brings first one and then another forward much as they would if they were playing. It is also frequently dryly funny, though Lovesey limits himself to only one violist joke (and a bad one at that.) Those familiar with the Beethoven piece will recall that it has an edgy, uncomfortable, almost brutal tone in places and so does the novel. Peter Diamond is out of sorts through much of it, devastated at the breach with Paloma and apparently helpless to do anything useful about it. His mood affects that of this team, who fear he's been watching far too many Kurt Wallander films on TV.

If I have any reservations at all about the book, it is that I found the ending somewhat emotionally unsatisfying though certainly surprising. But taken as a whole, this thirteenth in the Peter Diamond series is inventive, engaging, and almost awesomely accomplished.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, April 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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