Friday, 27 June 2008

The Headhunters

For sheer ability to entertain, very few contemporary writers from Britain or anywhere else can match Peter Lovesey. He has won awards all over the world, including the CWA’s Gold, Silver and Diamond Daggers, and his latest novel, The Headhunters, is a hugely enjoyable example of his work.

Lovesey’s last book, The Secret Hangman, featured his regular cop Peter Diamond, and I felt that – although these things are always difficult to judge with precision – it was as good as, if not better than, anything he had ever written, with the possible exception of his masterly The False Inspector Dew. The Headhunters is not a Diamond book, but sees the reappearance of a female cop, DCI Hen Mallin, who previously appeared in The Circle.

One of the reasons I found this book such fun to read is that the story is wonderfully convoluted. It’s impossible to guess in which direction Lovesey will take us next – a far cry from those formulaic traditional mysteries of the past, which so often became bogged down with endless, repetitive interviews of the suspects. Yet Lovesey honours the traditions of the genre, and this is a very elaborate puzzle indeed. It is possible (though far from easy) to guess who is responsible for the mysterious deaths of two drowned women, but the motive remains unclear until the end of the story.

The complexity of the structure of the novel derives from the fact that Lovesey does not focus mainly on Hen’s investigation, but rather upon the curious and developing relationship between the four friends who are the eponymous ‘Headhunters’. They begin by plotting a murder (of Gemma’s boss Mr Cartwright) as a joke, but before long, likeable Jo stumbles across a real corpse and the plot complications begin. I wasn’t entirely impressed by Hen’s detective work here – her prime suspect’s criminal record didn’t, to my mind, fit the profile of a psychopathic murderer. But this is a quibble. The pleasure to be had from a book like this is that it keeps one intrigued from first page to last. A mystery fan can’t ask for much more.

1 comment:

Jilly said...

I agree with all you said about 'The Headhunters'. I thoroughly enjoyed it too.