Sunday, July 12, 2015

British Police Procedural: Peter Diamond #14, DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN, Peter Lovesey

In the various series of British police investigation novels spinning now, a generous proportion draw their appeal from the team aspect: an investigator we focus on, and a second detective who helps outline the proportions of character and plot. Consider Reginal Hill's Dalziel and Pascoe; you can think of more (and are invited to comment on them here!).

Peter Lovesey's reliably intriguing Peter Diamond series, in which DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN is the 14th, now leaves behind Superintendent Diamond's pairing with DS Ingeborg Smith, and send Diamond out on a politically risky investigation with his own boss -- Georgina Dallymore, Assistant Chief Constable of Bath, always able to overlook a genuine clue in favor of her own suppositions and her imagined potential fame as a crimesolver. Her obvious certainty that Peter and others find her fatally alluring adds more complication to her insistence that Peter must assist on this hush-hush assignment. (And share a room at their lodgings?!!) And it's soon clear that Peter's not the only one who realizes Georgina is a stunningly poor pick for figuring out whether another city's police force is corrupt.

Lovesey's multiple plot lines here are a delight, and he's back to the strong, forward-moving crime fiction that's won him so many steady readers. Consider Danny, the petty criminal whose car thefts involved him with a murder, years ago; or the gutsy but rash teenage girls at a local prep school whose art teacher has gone missing, with nobody paying attention, and whose new art teacher is not only a "hot" young man but also willing to lead the girls into the Bohemian lifestyle he and his friends can afford. Readers from earlier in the series will perk up when one of the suspected investigators turns out to be Peter's former colleague, Henrietta "Hen" Mallin -- quite a contrast to powerful and clueless Georgina! And floundering in the loss of her own command, Hen's still not able to resist clashing with Peter's boss:
"I don't know about pride," Hen said. ... "I said at the beginning I messed up. You've got your views about policing,  I've got mine. What else do you want to hear from me?"

"I haven's heard a single 'ma'am,'" Georgina said. "That would be a start."

Diamond's flesh prickled.

Hen rose to it, as he knew she would. "God help us. Is that what you mean by respect? There I was thinking you were a fellow human being come to listen to my grubby little story when the truth is that you only came to hear me call you ma'am, and I missed all those opportunities. Well, I can put that right, ma'am, ma'am, ma'am, ma'am, ma'am--"


She stopped.

Diamond couldn't let her destroy herself in front of him. "Get a grip."
As usual, Diamond's ability to solve the crime -- at first a matter of a body in a trash bag, but soon revealed as much larger and more sinister -- depends on his "read" of the people around him, and in this case it's also a matter of whether he can keep Hen and Georgina far enough apart to prevent open warfare within the force.

As Diamond deftly turns the investigation and takes over the lead in spite of Georgina's repeated moves of subterfuge and manipulation, it turns out he is indeed the right person for this one.

Lovesey and Soho Crime have given us a great summer read, one that will stay on my shelf for midwinter refreshment as well. If you're a British crime reader, this book's a great addition to the collection. In 2000 Lovesey won the Cartier Diamond Dagger for excellence in crime writing -- it's clear he has a long career still ahead.

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