Stagestruck by Peter Lovesey

It was a long time ago when I last read something by Peter Lovesey. In fact, I’d completely forgotten that I’d read and reviewed The False Inspector Dew, which, to the chagrin of its many fans, I was rather non-plussed by. And then, to make up for that, I read Bloodhounds, Lovesey’s tribute to John Dickson Carr, featuring his series character Peter Diamond, which I enjoyed a lot more.

So, looking around for some things to add to my Kindle for my recent trip to Lanzarote, I came across the latest paperback featuring Diamond, which I’d heard good things about, so I figured, why not?

At the Theatre Royal, Bath, it is the opening night of I Am A Camera (the play that Cabaret is based on) and Clarion Calhoun, a fading pop-star sees the role of Sally Bowles as a way of being treated as a serious actress. But on opening night, before uttering a word, her make-up inexplicably causes serious burns to her face – it has been laced with sodium hydroxide. When her make-up artist then commits suicide, it looks like everything is explained – but why did the alkali take so long to start burning her face? Enter Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond – if he can manage to make his way into the theatre…Hmm… a bit of a mixture this one. It’s an entertaining enough read, although Lovesey does try the patience of the reader in the opening half before foul play is actually established. There’s a long section relating to the delay in the burns occurring where it basically goes:

  • State theory
  • Dismiss theory
  • Repeat

It is enlivened by the introduction of the somewhat irritating Sergeant Dawkins, determined to wheedle his way into CID and out of uniform – there is some nice comedy with the personality clashes with the somewhat grumpy Diamond.

Things pick up as some of the story becomes clearer and we head towards the conclusion which is… a little on the surprising side. Yes, there is a brief clue that indicates the killer, but to be honest, the motive’s pretty weak and rather unbelievable. But if you can put that to one side, it’s an exciting finale and it is a good surprise.

On the down side, there is a side-plot concerning Diamond’s fear of theatres which has some interesting elements, but has a disappointingly dull conclusion.

So, overall, it’s a perfectly good read, but not a classic – I think Bloodhounds is much better – but it certainly hasn’t put me off spending some time with Peter Diamond in the future.


  1. I always really enjoy Lovesey either in historical or contemporry mode but am actually a couple fo books behind with the Diamond series (how I’ve let myself go …?) – I am not a fan of plots points which go round and round the houses and then basically end up back at the same point, which Dexter did a few times with MORSE and which you allude to, so am sorry to hear that as in lesser hands it can be pretty exhausting. great review, thanks.


    • I think the multiple theories as to the “impossible” injuries just about got away with it, although only just.

      I’d love to know what you think of this one. In the meantime, apart from Bloodhounds, which of the other Diamond books do you recommend?


      • Ah, well, I’m a fan so it’s probably best to ask me which ones to avoid – on the whole, of the early titles I would reccommend, apaprt from BLOODHOUNDS of course, THE LAST DETECTIVE and THE SUMMONS – the one I was less keen on was DIAMOND SOLITAIRE which is more of a thriller and sees Diamond off the force. Also, I’m a sucker for amnesia stories so UPON A DARK NIGHT is another winner in my Lovesey pantheon.


  2. This was the most recent Lovesey that I read. Very good book. I must say that I didn’t find my patience tried at all with the opening half, but then we have disagreed about stuff like this before! The revelation of the killer at the end caught me totally by surprise. Is it fairly clued? Well, I didn’t think that it was totally unfair, the ending didn’t come from nothing, but I would be surprised if most readers got it. The stuff about motive never bothers me. Some real life crimes have the most ridiculous motives. As to the stuff about Diamond’s theatre phobia…at first it seems to be heading in one direction, then the other. The explanation is clever and avoids common cop novel cliches.

    Recommendations: THE LAST DETECTIVE is the first book; a good read and introduces a number of the characters. THE SUMMONS is a corker. The puzzle is good and the background to the story is fun. UPON A DARK NIGHT has a twisty/turny plot with a lot of humour. THE HOUSE-SITTER has a very good plot, and works in a new running character. Enough to be going on with?


    • That’s plenty – The Last Detective is now on my Kindle.

      As for the cluing… the clue (and I think there is only one really) is no worse (or indeed, the same) as one that Christie uses in at least one book. It’s there, but extrapolating the rest… that would take a better man than me.


    • I think you’ll find I said it was his latest paperback… not that I went back and edited the post of course!

      Seriously, thanks for the correction, Patrick.

      And by the way, readers, you can find Patrick’s review of Cop To Corpse here.


  3. Puzzle Doctor – Glad you liked this one. I like the Peter Diamond character quite a lot, and I’ve always liked Lovesey’s writing style.


    • One thing that struck me (and impressed me) was the clear attempt to produce a “proper” mystery plot in the Golden Age style. As I said, the motivation is a bit out there, but I’d rather that than a boring motive.


    • It’s a sign of a good author when despite some weaknesses in a book, you still want to read more from a series. I’ll be reading the series in order, and I look forward to The Secret Hangman. Thanks for the tip, Martin.


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