For many years, I used to look forward to the latest novel by those gifted friends and contemporaries Reginald Hill, Robert Barnard, and Peter Lovesey, always confident that entertainment and interest were guaranteed. They were authors I admired long before I was fortunate enough to get to know them personally. Sadly, Reg and Bob are no longer with us, but Peter's powers are absolutely undimmed, and so it was with much pleasure that I received a copy of his latest book about Peter Diamond, The Stone Wife.
I read it with great pleasure, too, and there are a couple of reasons for that. First, Peter Lovesey is such a smoothly accomplished craftsman that anything he writes is enjoyable. In this respect, he reminds me of another highly skilled writer, the late Michael Gilbert. He also resembles Gilbert in terms of his versatility as a writer and his determination to keep trying something different - even though he writes more series novels than Gilbert did. And this brings me to the second point about Peter Lovesey -he is not content to repeat a formula, and is well aware of the constraints and drawbacks (as well as the various advantages) of using series characters. If you study the Diamond series, you will, I think, be struck by how he has managed to ring the changes and keep his writing fresh.
This is certainly the case with The Stone Wife, which in some respects is rather different from earlier books in the series. The story opens with a raid on an auction, which ends with the fatal shooting of a man who was bidding for the eponymous stone wife - a sculpture with Chaucerian connections. When Diamond investigates, we are treated to a lot of information about Chaucer, and although this is fascinating stuff, some readers may feel there is a little too much of it. But Peter Lovesey is a smart writer, and in fact he smuggles some vital plot information into these passages. I must say that he managed to misdirect me completely, even though I was paying attention.
Two different gangsters play a part in the story, and there's a sub-plot which involves DS Ingeborg Smith going undercover and getting herself kidnapped. This thriller-style material is unusual in a Lovesey novel, and it's a good illustration of his willingness to keep trying something different. Would the police really act in this way? I simply don't know, but this is a writer who is one of the best at making sure his readers suspend their disbelief. One or two aspects of the story are not fully resolved (the fate of the gangster's wife springs to mind) and I wonder if these will be picked up in a future novel, about Diamond, or perhaps focusing on Ingeborg, who is an appealing character. At the end, someone I'd never suspected proves to be the culprit.. When I re-read earlier parts of the book, I realised how carefully Lovesey had set up the finale - and yet, for all the detective novels I've read over the years, I never anticipated what was coming.