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Peter Diamond

THE FINISHER . . . Between the covers

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51bAlRSlCzL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Fictional police officers come in an almost infinite number of guises. They can be lowly of rank, like Tony Parsons’ Detective Constable Max Wolfe, or very senior, such as Detective Superintendent William Lorimer, as imagined by Alex Gray. Male, female, tech-savvy, Luddite, happy family folk or embittered loners – there are plenty to choose from. So where does Peter Lovesey’s Peter Diamond fit into the matrix? As a Detective Superintendent, he pretty much only answers to the Assistant Chief Constable, but for newcomers to the well established series, what sort of a figure does he cut? Lovesey lets us know fairly early in The Finisher, the nineteenth in a series that began in 1991 with The Last Detective. Diamond is on plain clothes duty keeping a wary eye on a half marathon race in the historic city of Bath:

“Difficult to tell whether Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond, on duty in the gardens, was overt or covert. If he had been in the race, you might have taken him for one of the jokers in fancy dress. He might have stepped out of a nineteen-forties film, a sleuth on the trail of Sydney Greenstreet. The gabardine trench coat and dark brown trilby, his so-called plain clothes, weren’t plain at all in twenty-first century Bath.”

Neither is Peter Diamond a vain man, nor one who gives excessive attention to his personal appearance:

“He didn’t waste time showering or shaving. A swish of tap water took the sleep from his eyes and a squirt of deodorant completed his grooming. Unshaven jowls were standard among the younger members of his team.”

The book’s title is a clever play on words and has a double significance. It can be someone who manages to complete ‘The Other Half’ – an alternative half marathon pounded out along the elegant streets, disused railway tunnels and steep wooded hillsides of Bath. It also has a more sinister connotation – a person who gets things done, even if doing so involves a lack of compassion and, even, a willingness to use violence.

Lovesey’s clever novel combines the events surrounding the race, as well as a particularly brutal example of modern day slavery – illegal immigrants forced to work for a pittance, housed in grim conditions, and for ever in thrall to men and women who earn fortunes exploiting the vulnerable.

Finisher021There’s a dazzling array of characters to act out the drama. We have an earnest school teacher who forces herself to run the race in order to make good a lost donation to a charity; there is a statuesque Russian, wife of a cynical businessman, determined to lose weight and gain her husband’s respect; instant villainy is provided by a paroled serial seducer and sex-pest who has taken on a new role as personal trainer to the rich; at the bottom of the pond, so to speak, are a pair of feckless Albanian chancers who have escaped from an illegal work gang, and are trying to avoid the retribution of their controllers.

Throw into this mix a fascinating geographical background which comes vividly to life, even to someone like me, who has only a limited knowledge of Bath. Like most, I knew of its Roman heritage and the wonderful Georgian architecture, but I was totally unaware that the hills surrounding the city conceal warrens of quarries, caves and tunnels from which the beautiful local limestone was hewn.

Throughout his long and celebrated writing career, Lovesey has never given away his solutions without putting the reader through their own private marathon of false clues, and misdirections. So it is with The Finisher. If you get within ten pages of the end and reckon you know who did what to whom – then trust me, you don’t! This wonderfully entertaining novel by one of our finest living writers is published by Sphere and is out now.

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ON MY SHELF 2017 … Leon, Fowler & Lovesey

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The good books come thick and fast at this time of year, and this week we have three very well known and justifiably popular authors. Each of the three has a long running series, each with its own passionate readership. The three authors between them have notched up an astonishing 57 novels featuring their lead characters. The three series have another common factor in that they are set in three of the world’s most beautiful cities – Venice, London and Bath.

Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti returns for another intriguing mystery set in his native Venice. Brunetti is feeling his age, and the constant pressure of the expectations of his bosses in La Questura has led to him making an error of judgment which threatens to derail his career. Rather like the football manager who substitutes a player before he can collect the second Yellow card, Brunetti’s wife insists he takes leave of absence, and packs him off to stay with a relative on the quiet and thinly populated island of Sant’Erasmo. But this, of course, is a crime thriller, and we all know that recuperating detectives always attract dark deeds. In this case it is the disappearance of Davide Casati, the caretaker of the house. Brunetti is drawn reluctantly but inevitably in the search for the man, and it soon becomes apparent that he would have had more rest if he’d stayed at home.

Earthly Remains is published by William Heinemann and will be available from 6th April.

OMS middleTo London, and most elderly pair of investigators currently still working. Existing fans of Arthur Bryant and John May have come to expect quirky humour, clever wordplay, an unrivaled knowledge of the topography and history of London, and a Betjeman-esque poetry of description which sometimes appears humdrum, but is often very profound.  Christopher Fowler loves jokes that involve popular culture and brand names, and readers of a certain age will know that even the naming of the two elderly investigators is a little gem of a joke. The cobwebby pair work for the Peculiar Crimes Unit, an esoteric (and purely fictional) branch of the Metropolitan Police. They are constantly under threat of being pensioned off, but their investigations always take them to  mysterious parts of London (usually entirely factual).  Arthur Bryant – as usual – baffles and exasperates  his colleagues, but in this tale his arcane knowledge of London helps the Unit solve the open air version of The Locked Room Mystery. The title? This is from Fowler’s erudite and entertaining website.

“London’s greenery is absurdly generous. There’s no way of avoiding it wherever you walk. London’s parks, woodlands, ancient forests, secret gardens, informal community parks, tended meadows, play areas, crescents, allotments, polygons, circuses, heaths and commons each have a different character. Add to these our obsession with back gardens (not places to be kept beautiful but somewhere messy to escape to) and you start to think that these ‘wild chambers’ are there to stop families from going mad.”

Wild Chambers is published by Bantam Press, and is out in hardback on 23rd March.

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Peter-LoveseyThis week’s award for the most menacing title must go to Peter Lovesey (right) and his Somerset and Avon copper, Peter Diamond. More used to solving high profile murder cases, Diamond is not best pleased when he is called in to investigate an apparent motoring accident. Tragically, a police vehicle, speeding late at night to a possible crime scene, spins off the road, killing one of the officers. Hours later, Diamond discovers that the officer is not the only victim. On an adjacent embankment, undiscovered by the emergency teams, is the rider of a motorised trike. The man is close to death, but Diamond administers CPR successfully enough for the victim to be taken to hospital, where he remains in a critical condition. Diamond, however, is not able to sit back and bask in the warm knowledge that he has carried out a valuable public service. His bosses are desperate that the whole RTA  is not blamed on the police force, but what causes Diamond the most anxiety is the emerging likelihood that the man whose life he saved is almost certainly a serial killer.

Another One Dies Tonight came out in hardback in 2016, but will be available in paperback for the first time on 6th April.

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