I have recently been given a monthly book subscription as a gift. I look on these as something of a two-edged sword. It’s lovely to have a ‘free’ book dropping through the letter box each month but, however much information you provide the bookseller with, there are still times when opening the parcel leads, either immediately or subsequently, to a disappointment. The first book I received, in August, fell into the former category, it was one I had already read, although I didn’t own it and wasn’t averse to reading it again. When I opened September’s parcel it was to reveal the first in Peter Lovesey’s series about DS Peter Diamond, The Last Detective, and I have to say that for some time I thought it was going to fall into the latter.
As most of my reader friends and acquaintances well know, I am more than happy to be introduced to a new (to me) police procedural series and a quick check on the Fantastic Fiction site showed me that if I enjoyed this there were another seventeen titles available, so I set about the book pretty much as soon as it arrived. Having just finished it, I have to say that I am in two minds as to whether or not I shall read any more. Perhaps writing about this first instalment will help me decide.
I call the main character DS Peter Diamond, but in fact, circumstances force him to resign part way through the story, so I have no way of knowing whether or not he will ever resume his role within the official ranks of law and order. The case that leads to his departure begins with the discovery of a woman’s body which has clearly been floating for some time in a lake near Bath, where the novel is set. Because of its condition identifying who the victim is takes time, especially as numerous callers ID her as a character in a soap opera. However, those callers are not so far wrong as the body turns out to be that of one Geraldine Jackman née Snoo, the actress who played the role and wife of Peter Jackman, an English Literature professor at the local university. Jackman has already achieved some local ‘notoriety’ both as a result of his rescue of twelve year old Matthew Didrikson from the weir near Pulteney Bridge and because of an exhibition about Jane Austen staged at the Assembly Rooms. When Diamond and his colleagues start to look into the troubled circumstances of the couple’s marriage it seems as if he is going to become even more notorious because he immediately becomes the chief suspect. However, a rock solid alibi forces the police to look elsewhere and attention turns to Matthew’s mother, Dana, whose gratitude, it is suggested, has turned into stronger feelings and who has already had a number of run-ins with Geraldine, an unstable woman at the best of times.
Written and set in 1991, the novel very much reflects the changes that police investigations were undergoing at the time. Computers and new forensic techniques, such as genetic fingerprinting, are beginning to play a large part in any inquiry and Diamond, a copper of the old school, resents this and isn’t slow to make his displeasure apparent. He treats those who think differently from him with disdain and this was my main problem with the book: I really didn’t want to spend time with someone I initially saw as inherently unlikeable. Removed from a position of power, his tendency to bully and browbeat those around him is inevitably diminished and once he had resigned from the force I found I was getting on better with him. If I do read on in the series it will be to discover how Lovesey, whose most recent Diamond novel was published earlier this year, has set about bringing this curmudgeon forward almost thirty years. If he found the technology of the early 1990s difficult how much more so must that be the case now? I suspect that what I will find is that time has not flowed quite as fast for the ex-policeman as it has for the rest of us.
Ultimately, this wasn’t a bad read and the bookseller’s choice has certainly introduced me to an author I might not otherwise have considered. I have to say, though, that I am hoping for a more successful surprise when October’s book sails through the letterbox.