The Last Detective by Peter Lovesey

A unidentified body is found floating in a lake near Bath. Enter Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond, newly moved to Bath following an inquiry (in which he was exonerated) for misconduct during an interrogation at the Met. Diamond is a traditional policeman with a habit of rubbing some people – usually his colleagues – up the wrong way, but now that he is faced with the biggest puzzle of his career, can he rise to the challenge of being The Last Detective – the last of a dying breed of genuine sleuths? Or is this mystery one step too far for him?

Ah, Peter Lovesey. This is the fourth review of his work that I’ve done – see also The False Inspector Dew, Bloodhounds and Stagestruck, the last two also featuring Diamond. So far, I’ve yet to settle on an opinion for his work. Will this be the book to make my mind up, one way or the other?

Um… nope. Still undecided.

Let’s take the positives first – and there are many. Diamond is a pretty well thought out character with a well-constructed background. It’s interesting to contrast him to the character in the later books, where he has gathered a team together and seems at home in Bath. Here, he’s very much a loner, not completely trusting the people around him. And his personal story takes a very interesting turn about halfway through the book.

In fact the structure of the book itself is very interesting. What starts off as a police procedural takes a surprising left turn for the second and fourth acts, shedding some interesting light onto the story that would otherwise be lacking.

So what’s my problem with it? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure.

The plot is well structured narratively, but, to be honest, I found it a little on the dull side. Despite the many deviations in the story, at the end of the day, it’s not the most interesting mystery ever, and there’s not exactly a large list of suspects knocking around. And for something billing itself as The Last Detective, there didn’t seem to be many clues knocking around for the final reveal.

The thing is, I can see that this is a very well-written mystery novel. I can see why other people like it so much. But for some reason, I didn’t particularly enjoy reading it. Not an uncommon occurrence at the moment – I’m still busy with the start of term, only able to read in small bursts, rather than in prolonged chunks. I think I need a really great book to kick-start the habit again. So apologies if the next few reviews (oh, with one exception soon) are for the old reliables that always populate my blog. I might even have to resort to reading the last Athelstan book… Wish me luck.

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19 comments

  1. Puzzle Doctor – I’ve had a very similar experience to yours, where I’ve read a book that was well-written, had interesting characters and all that but still didn’t ‘carry me off’ so to speak. That didn’t happen to me with this one as I liked it very much. That said though, I think one’s mood does play an important role in one’s inclination to either like a book or not.

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    • I have been in two minds whether to carry on reviewing while not being able to read as I would like to. Hence the proviso on the review.

      Oh, and it does contain one of my bugbears. At least one mention of “if this were a detective novel, then…”. Really annoys me, the deliberate and slightly lazy attempt to make a detective novel “real”. Admittedly, not as many as in Murder in Steeple Markham, where it seemed to be every other chapter…

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  2. I have read some Peter Lovesey (including this book) earlier but not recently. Did not get any further on the Diamond series, but I have several more of his books on my TBR pile, so I hope I do like them when I get back to reading him. Very good review and I like your honesty.

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    • Those are very kind words, TracyK. Much appreciated. I enjoyed the later Diamonds more, as the character seemed more likeable in those, so next time I go back to Lovesey, I’ll jump ahead a few, I think.

      Such a shame, I was looking forward to this for a while. Never mind, though. I’m devouring The Treason Of The Ghosts by Paul Doherty at the moment, so it looks like the reading problems may be receding. Fingers crossed.

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  3. I’m doubtless one of the people who banged on about this book as I’m a fan of Lovesey and Diamond – you might find the third in the series, THE SUMMONING, a stronger puzzle but maybe Lovesey just doesn’t ring your bell chum. If you want to try something a bit different, have you tried Alfred Bester’s THE DEMOLISHED MAN? It’s a terrific Science Fiction/Mystery hybrid, very well plotted and brilliantly told too.Or maybe Ira Levin’s A KISS BEFORE DYING? It has a twist at the halfway mark that really should take your breath away …

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    • Playing it safe for a while. Doherty, Tremayne, Ellis and Edwards and other historical stuff. Trying to get my head in the right place for the first attempt at for the great unwritten novel actually getting some words added to it…

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  4. I think that this is basically a question of taste. I am an enormous fan of Dickson Carr and so are you, you are a fan of Paul Doherty and I am not, you like FOYLE’S WAR more than MIDSOMER MURDERS and I feel the opposite way. There is something that you don’t like or appreciate about Lovesey’s books, but you can’t put it into words. I’ve noticed that when you review his books, you’re forced to admit that they are well plotted and characterised, but they’re not for you. We can’t all like everything. I have a blind spot about Raymond Chandler, although I know some reviewers worship the rain-slicked side-walk that he moves across. My guess is that if you don’t like Lovesey after these books, then you never will. It’s a shame, but there you are.

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    • What confuses me somewhat is that I felt so differently about each Diamond book. I really liked Bloodhounds, Stagestruck was well-written but had a rather silly plot, and this one… just felt a bit dull. I’m intrigued about this disparity and I will be coming back in the future.

      Talking about future posts, have you been getting messages about my upcoming Foyle’s War post? Or did I tweet something recently?

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  5. There is a little bit on the side of this page which says GET MY REVIEWS ON TWITTER, and it makes your opinions on FOYLE and MIDSOMER veeerrrrrrry clear. (:

    You’re not alone in that disparity. There have been authors where every time I try a different book of theirs, I’m not certain if I’m going to love or hate it, I’ve enjoyed every single Lovesey that I’ve read, but I’ve noticed that certain reviewers seem to like some of them more than others. There are certainly some readers who love his early CRIBB books, but dislike everything that he’s written since.

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    • Oh yeah, forgot about that tweet. Going to watch a few more Foyle before coming to a firm conclusion but the two so far seem to be proper mysteries either a smart use of the setting as opposed to most current Midsomer outings where spotting the murderer seems like a dumbed down version of Pin The Tail On The Donkey.

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  6. I do like MIDSOMER because it is rather silly and frivolous, rather than treating the genre with exaggerated seriousness. FOYLE’S WAR is a very well done show, but one of the things that annoys me is the way that Foyle is essentially a modern man, with all of the correct opinions of a modern man. I don’t mind him being enlightened, but I’ve read some books by policemen of that rank from that era, and they do occasionally say things that make one cringe. If the writers would only dare to make him a little less perfect, I would like him a lot more.

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