The False Inspector Dew (1981) by Peter Lovesey

Another new author for the blog, but it certainly won’t be his last appearance – I bought a job lot of four of his books from eBay!

Peter Lovesey has been writing crime fiction for forty years now, with a variety of detectives, notably Peter Diamond (modern-day) and Sergeant Cribb (Victorian). The False Inspector Dew is a non-series novel which earned Lovesey the CWA Gold Dagger, so it seemed like a good place to start.

Walter Baranov, a dentist, plans to murder his wife on board the Mauretania steam ship crossing the Atlantic. He chooses the pseudonym of Walter Dew, the same name as the man who caught Dr Crippen. This causes a bit of a problem when on the night he kills his wife, someone sees a body being dropped over the side. Obviously there’s no problem, as Inspector Dew is on board. Obviously he’ll find the killer…

First of all, this is a fun book. The main characters are well drawn, although fairly typical of the type of characters that populate Agatha Christie books. The plot never stands still, something new seems to happen every page. But…

… I can’t put my finger on why, but this isn’t going to find a place on my top ten books. First of all, this book doesn’t feel like a mystery to me. It feels more like the love-child of a Jeffrey Deaver thriller and an Agatha Christie mystery and the whodunit part of the story is fairly inconsequential. The twists and turns of Baranov’s story are more interesting, but there aren’t any real surprises here – the cliché of a character falling in love and becoming engaged over a matter of days doesn’t help. Maybe it happened all the time pre-war, but it just annoys me whenever I read it.

I’d still recommend this, but don’t expect a brain-twisting mystery. I just can’t figure out why is appears on so many “Best Mystery” lists.


  1. Oh dear, and it was one of my recommendations too! I must admit, when I read it (a good 15 years ago probably) I loved all the twists and turns and found it to be constantly ingenious and surprising – Deaver always seems to have an avalanche of twists but I prefer Lovesey because his work seems to be much more closely and carefully plotted whereas the difference I would suggest with Deaver (and I haven’t read all that many) is that there is alot of cleverness but it tends to exhaust the narrative after a bit as more and more elements get bolted on to the basic story while I thought the tempo and the construction of THE FALSE INSPECTOR DEW always felt well under control and part of a single pattern. Despite being written in the 80s this always truck me as a book that seemed as if it could have been plotted by some of the greats on the 1930s like Carr and Christie. Or maybe I need to re-read it!

    There are very few practitioners in the genre who work in a style that can even be said to be comparable to the Golden Age when it comes to ingenuity and construction and I think this is why I am such a big Lovesey fan personally – but it’s been a while since I read any of the Cribb or early Diamond novels it has to be said – think I’ll go and pull out my copy of BLOOD HOUNDS right now!


    • Well, as I said, it stood up as a thriller, but just didn’t gel for me. Maybe I was going in expecting the mystery side of it to be stronger – a second read knowing what to expect might yield a more positive opinion. Certainly an interesting read, and thanks for the recommendation. That was the reason I read it!


  2. I have just finished reading this book. Though it is a page turner and I enjoyed reading it, the ending is disappointing and a cheat.It raises some unanswered questions.
    When Walter goes to visit his wife in the ship as planned, he would see SPOILER. Wouldn’t it make him perplexed and wouldn’t his behaviour be different from that shown in the book? Wouldn’t he confide in Alma?
    A person for some reason leaves the ship on a pilot boat, leaving the luggage behind. Wouldn’t the crew be informed of this and told to take care of the luggage till it is collected later?
    Thus, in my opinion, the ending mars what would otherwise have been an excellent novel.


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