Thursday 17 December 2009

Skeleton Hill

Reading a novel by Peter Lovesey is rather like settling down to watch a favourite tv show or film, in good company and with a bottle of wine and box of chocolates within easy reach. You just know you are going to have a good time. So it is with his latest Peter Diamond novel, Skeleton Hill.

Lovesey never writes the same book twice, and this one is structured very differently from the last Diamond, The Secret Hangman. What both have in common is an intriguing and unusual motive for crime. Here, the motive strikes me as pretty much unguessable (or do I just mean that I didn’t come close to guessing it, even though I did figure out the culprit in good time?)

The basic set-up is that, during a Civil War re-enactment in Bath, a lecturer comes across a hidden bone. Someone was murdered, years ago. But then the lecturer goes missing, too. Diamond investigates, and along the way, we learn a great deal about the history of Bath, as well as something about the equine world.. It’s a pity that a map of Lansdown is not included by the publishers, as this would have helped readers to visualise the geography of key incidents, as well as chiming with the traditional mood of the story.

The build-up to the sequence of surprises and revelations that occur late in the story is elaborate and quite leisurely. My impression was that there was rather more about police procedure, and relationships within the investigating team, than in previous Diamond novels. The structure of the book means that, necessarily, the pace of the narrative is not as quick as in many Loveseys, but there is much pleasure to be gained from the author’s easy way with character and incident. I’m a confirmed Lovesey fan, and this rather unorthodox book from one of our leading detective novelists is another winner. Recommended.


Philip Amos said...

Ah, Peter Lovesey. I have on occasion had cause to dismiss crime novelists from the sparse ranks of my A+ List, ripping off their epaulets and buttons and breaking their swords over my knee, but I'll wager that will never happen with Lovesey. One of the true greats, I think, and richly deserving of his diamond dagger.

Anonymous said...

Martin - Thanks for this interesting and thorough review. For me, a quick pace is not nearly as important as is strong characterization and a solid, engaging and intriguing plot, which is what makes Lovesey such a standout writer.

Deb said...

Coincidently, I just finished this a couple of weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. Yes, the pace was a little leisurely, but I didn't mind--and am I wrong in assuming that some of the detectives from Bristol may become recurring characters in future Diamond books? You're right about the map--my sense of direction is not good (especially when I'm just relying on what's going on in my head) and a map would have been welcome.

I was surprised that Diamond is continuing to see the woman he met in the previous book--although there was only a very brief reference to that aspect of their relationship.

Anyway, Lovesey is right up there with James, Rendell, and Robert Barnard for me: Whenever there's a new book by any of them, I'm reading it ASAP.

Dorte H said...

I think I will have to put Peter Lovesey on my list. I may not begin with Skeleton Hill, however, but try some of his earlier works first.

Xavier said...


I suggest you start with "Rough Cider" which is my favorite Lovesey. The Cribbs and the Bertie books are very good as well. On the other hand, I was rather disappointed by the two Diamonds I read some years ago, "The Summons" and another one I cannot recall the title (it was about a Japanese girl found in a Harrods-like department store, if I recall correctly)

Martin Edwards said...

Philip and Margot - I agree!
Deb - interesting point about the Bristol cops.
Dorte and Xavier - some of the more recent Diamond books are absolutely splendid, I can assure you.
More about Peter Lovesey soon!

Deb said...

Dorte--Lovesey's Hen Mallin series is good too. I think there's only a couple of those. "The Headhunters" was the one I enjoyed the most.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Deb. That is a very good one - unusual in structure and genuinely original.

Dorte H said...

I am overwhelmed ;) But I have added him to my list and will probably try him some time in 2010.

Right now I am buying books for the two challenges I am going to participate in next year.

Minnie said...

Martin, thanks so much for the reminder - as it were - to have another look at this terrific writer's work. I loved the Diamond series, and had rather lost touch with it. Shall now remedy that.
One of the elements I enjoyed (aside from compelling writing/plotting, deftly-drawn characters & believable dialogue)was the sense of place. I know quite a few people can do without this, but for me it adds so much value. It helps that I know Bath well (used to live there).

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Deb and Minnie. Lucky you, Minnie, to have lived in Bath - a super place.