Peter Lovesey's nicely paced British crime fiction takes the old-fashioned taste for classic Agatha Christie, and updates it with quirky humor and just enough staff friction to make Chief Superintendent Peter Diamond tear out a bit more hair. Lovesey begin his crime writing in 1969, winning a 1970 award for Wobble to Death, which combined his knowledge of Victorian athletics (who knew!?) with neat plot twists and likeable characters.
With this season's release, Lovesey steps onto the hallowed ground of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales -- the "stone wife" is a relief carving of the Wife of Bath, one of Chaucer's more ribald narrators, and the book opens with the massive stone at auction. Who's pushing the price beyond twenty thousand? How can the lightweight Professor Gildersleeve hang in with the bidding? And, strangest of all, why are three robbers in black face masks trying to hijack the auction? Ooops -- a fierce gesture of courage from the otherwise ignorable professor leads to a shot fired, and suddenly there's a death to investigate, as the would-be robbers panic and take off.
The investigation jams up quickly with problems: Chief Superintendent Diamond literally falls on the stone carving, damaging his office in his tumble; he has a plan for Sergeant Ingeborg Smith to dig into the crime, while the youngest member of his team "takes initiative" and turns Smith's careful work into a dangerous disaster; and motives abound for an ex-wife, another professor, an art hound, and more.
Awarded the 2000 Cartier Diamond Dagger from Britain's Crime Writers Association, Lovesey (born in 1938, author of more than 30 books; I also like his Victorian series with Sergeant Cribb, which was a TV hit) hasn't slowed down, although his characters are a bit less fractured and a bit sweeter in their old age. THE STONE WIFE will entertain a reader for several autumn evenings, or can go in the "to be read" stack to grace the shorter days ahead. Kudos to Soho Crime for sustaining this stylish series.