Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Sixth Sense for Crime: Peter Lovesey, STAGESTRUCK

With some 25 crime novels to his credit, expectations are high when Peter Lovesey brings out a new one. For the past few days, he's been touring in the US for STAGESTRUCK (Soho Crime), an homage to the complexities of the Theatre Royal, Bath. The book is a perfect backdrop for the English traditions and phrases that make his mysteries such fun for American readers, and the theater stage is exactly the right blend of "ordinary" and "fabulous" on which to position his characters -- starting with the unfortunate pop singer Clarion Calhoun, looking for a boost into a dramatic change of her career, and instead grievously wounded as the book opens.

It's a case where nothing is quite what it seems: not Clarion's motives for being there, not the bonds attaching the members of the theatre company, and most of all, not what Detective Peter Diamond is seeing and feeling as he struggles to isolate the actual crime and the escalating criminal or criminals involved. Is "all the world" a stage? What is giving him such a dose of theater phobia as he pursues fleeting glimpses of the solution? Is it a sixth sense for a ghost, or for evil? Or is it more personal?
With a curt, 'Do you mind?' Titus made a beeline for the steps to the royal circle entrance. He had such an air of authority that no one challenged himm or took photos and no one gave Diamond a second look.

If they had, they would have seen his face taut with stress.
This is the eleventh Peter Diamond mystery, and it's a quiet, often tender one -- but as I look back on my favorites of Lovesey's, such as Diamond Solitaire, I see that's how he has generally crafted this series, in spite of the genre label of "crime." In fact, what's changed during the series are the violence and darkness now almost commonplace in today's thrillers and police procedurals. Compared to, say, a Lee Child or Tana French book, Lovesey's writing now appears gentle, almost in the mood of a traditional "house mystery" moved to the police station and downtown.

Pick this one up for a relaxed evening apart from summer's exertions. Stronger than a "cat and tea" cozy mystery, but without the desperate or painful edges of today's noir, STAGESTRUCK is a nicely plotted, generously presented, traditional mystery. There's a place and a time for that ... and I'm glad the book came my way.

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