Down Among the Dead Men
Practice makes perfect, as evidenced by the latest by Peter Lovesey novel—number 15 in the Peter Diamond crime series, and more than 30 books altogether. Lovesey knows how to jump right in and tell a story, crisp and crackling, while developing interesting characters and plotting a puzzling crime.
Not all his characters are likable, though, and this story opens with one of them: a two-bit car thief who simultaneously scores it big and gets caught with a dead body he had nothing to do with. Although slammed into jail and convicted, he maintains his innocence until somebody is willing to listen and take him seriously.
That somebody is Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond, the series main character who finally comes on stage in chapter four. He is led to the car thief while investigating a different crime in Sussex, England, dragged along by his supervisor to follow through on an internal investigation. It involves a good cop Diamond once worked with and respects. Her cold case overlaps a current case of missing women, but only Diamond spots the subtle connection. He follows the trail until enough overlaps build up to put the two cases together.
The story is told in alternating viewpoints of cops and teenagers, each of whom carries a piece of the puzzle. Through them Diamond zeroes in on a large-scale kill-and-dispose racket that links the cases.
The narrative pace is calm and steady, ramping up as stale dots get connected and raveled threads are pulled together. This creates a page-turning need more subtle (but no less effective) than some of the more breathless crime novels and thrillers. Unlike them, there’s no actual violence in the story, though it’s always close by and threatening.
Interlaced throughout are some cogent one-liners. A random selection:
“The use of his first name by [his boss] was a cannon shot across the bows. The mention of delegating was a broadside.”
“She had been a dormant volcano in the caravan and at last she could send out sparks.”
“The prospect of being with [his boss] for days to come, if not weeks, was about as appealing as gangrene.”
“The crossed swords of the Victory Arch in Baghdad were no higher than [her] eyebrows.”
“The three students turned their heads like meerkats.”
In sum, a novel of engaging prose, intriguing and credible plot, and believable characters with a likable lead. In Down Among the Dead Men, Lovesey delivers a fine beach read—heck, a great fireside chair read, a straphanger commuter read, a stolen-moments-during-a-busy-day read, an anytime read.
Nice to know there’s a whole series like this, and presumably we can look forward to more.