After being somewhat disappointed with The False Inspector Dew, I was determined to give Peter Lovesey another try, so I figured Bloodhounds, featuring Lovesey’s current series detective, Superintendent Peter Diamond and also a locked room mystery – in fact the whole book could be seen as a tribute to John Dickson Carr.
Shirley-Ann Miller joins the Bloodhounds, a group of mystery novel enthusiasts, but events start to escalate when a stolen postage stamp is found inside an old copy of Carr’s The Hollow Man, despite it never leaving the possession of the owner. This is rapidly followed by one of the Bloodhounds being found bludgeoned to death locked inside a houseboat. Unfortunately, there is only one key to the padlock on the door, which has never left the pocket of the owner, who has a cast iron alibi.
I enjoyed this book a lot. OK, I’m a massive John Dickson Carr fan, but even so, for a modern detective story (1996), there is a lot of plot going on here. There are double solutions, á la Ellery Queen, both for the locked room and for the murderer, and everything is set up fairly. There’s a finite group of suspects (only the Bloodhounds knew about the stamp) and the denouement makes sense without any cheating.
Lovesey has an unfussy writing style which makes this an easy read – Diamond himself is a very traditional copper, reminding me a little of Tom Barnaby from Midsomer Murders, but this isn’t a bad thing. Not all crime solvers have to be eccentric Belgians after all, and given that he gains a kitten in the course of the book, then he has to score highly in my book. If he does name the cat Raffles though, I’d suggest that Bernie Rhodenbarr got there first. He cleverly gives you enough of the Bloodhounds for them to seem real but without every giving them a direct voice (with the possible exception of Shirley-Ann), so they are not eliminated as suspects. Plus points as well for a strong female character as Diamond’s assistant, especially her behaviour in the finale, which I won’t spoil.
The solution to the locked room is simple but clever enough to fool most people (including me) but cynical old so-and-so that I am, I did spot the murderer, but I did feel clever doing so, rather than it being obvious.
If I had one criticism, then I’d say the motive is pretty slight for the plan that is executed to achieve it, given that the villain doesn’t seem to be barking mad. Given that this is a tribute (and most definitely not a spoof) of the Golden Age mystery, this is hardly unwelcome (how insane is the plan in The ABC Murders) but does seem a bit odd, nonetheless.
Anyway, this is highly recommended and I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for other Superintendent Diamond books. This is a great read.