Two British Authors With Different Approaches to Crime
The Stone Wife: A Chief Superintendent Peter Diamond Investigation by Peter Lovesey (Soho Press, $26.95, 368 pages)
Witty British mystery stories can be addicting. The reader knows that a satisfying one is like an escape from the mundane, an opportunity to spend time with detectives who are able to cut through the confusion and trick the villains into revealing their responsibility for evil deeds. Peter Lovesey has added a 14th Peter Diamond tale to his long list of publishing credits. The Stone Wife is most certainly a member of this charming and addictive genre. The opening pages are reminiscent of the Lovejoy television series wherein the main character is an antiques dealer who susses out the real from the fake, often at auctions.
The Stone Wife begins at an auction where masked gunmen interrupt contentious bidding for a slab of carved stone. The current high bidder boldly intervenes as the masked men are poised to whisk away the stone slab. Alas, the bidder’s actions result in a nasty abdominal wound that is quickly followed by his demise. Of course, the local police are summoned and Peter Diamond, head of the Bath Criminal Investigation Division (CID), and his team begin their search for the masked men.
Lovesey fills the story with easy dialogue and a good balance of description and action. The reader is provided background regarding Chaucer’s life and writings. This information ties to the carving on the stone slab, which becomes a nagging reminder of the unsolved case in Inspector Diamond’s office. The CID team members, including Ingeborg Smith and Paul Gilbert, put themselves in harms’ way to assist in untangling a rather convoluted interplay among some really nasty criminals.
Infidelity and envy are motivating factors for the crime. The twisting and turning of the plot can be a bit off-putting. By comparison, Skeleton Hill, an earlier book in the series, is more like a well-crafted game of Clue.
Under a Silent Moon: A Novel by Elizabeth Haynes (Harper, $25.99, 359 pages)
Every little thing felt like flirting where Hamilton was concerned. Did he do it to everyone, or just to Lou? And how did you stamp your authority on the working relationship when there was this sort of history between you? Two months ago she had been a DI, and his ranking equal… Her swift rise to DCI was all due to her grim determination to get her head down and concentrate on work rather than let herself be distracted by men, or one man in particular – Andy Hamilton.
A deliberate timeline, memos from the detective chief superintendent, illustrations of reports throughout and elaborate charts at the back pages of Under a Silent Moon set this police procedural apart from others of its genre. Author Elizabeth Haynes prefaces the book with an explanation of her use of IBM computer software to simulate an actual murder investigation. She assures the reader that the characters are pure fiction.
The suspicious death of a very pretty young woman kicks off this tale. Detective Chief Inspector Louisa (Lou) Smith catches the case, her first major crime as a senior investigating officer. Smith is anxious to get it right, not mess up on the case. She needs to assert her leadership role with the members of her team, including Andy Hamilton, who is both brash and intimidating. By contrast, Smith favors a calm and warm approach to policing. Her style may not suit the promotion she has recently won.
The scene of the crime is the upscale neighborhood of Briarstone. The victim, Polly Leuchars, is not just beautiful; she is also known for her promiscuity with both men and women. Her brutal murder touches many residents, both current and past, of the country town. A second murder adds to the urgency and pressures that DCI Smith feels from the upper echelons of the police department.
Haynes provides a large cast of characters, many of whom seem to be deliberately confusing. These characters include Taryn and Flora, their fathers and several police officers – both male and female. Thankfully, there’s a roster at the front of the book to assist the reader when the names become overwhelming. Timing plays an important role in the solution of both of the crimes.
Despite the in-your-face presentation, readers of thrillers will most likely enjoy the specificity and details that make this more than just another procedural. Clearly, this is not your tame Miss Marple-style of British mystery. Under a Silent Moon is promoted as the first in a new series from Haynes. It will be interesting to see whether she is able to maintain the tight format and specificity of this compellingly tense novel.
Review copies were provided by the publishers.