A Case Of Spirits by Peter Lovesey

A Case Of SpiritsAh, that old mystery novel staple, the seance. What better setting than a room where all of the lights have been turned out to kill someone? When Sergeant Cribb is asked to investigate some minor thefts , the common link seems to be the medium Peter Brand. But when Brand is conducting another seance, he sits in an electric chair – perfectly safe, as it justs monitors fluctuations in his electrical field – there’s no way that it could generate enough current to actually electrocute him, right?

With a household full of suspects, all of which have a reason to see Brand dead, Sergeant Cribb has his work cut out for him – not least working out how exactly how the medium was murdered…

The first author on my list for 2014 possibly requires a little explanation. Peter Lovesey has a great reputation as a mystery author but the works that I’ve read of his vary from excellent – Bloodhounds – to good but a little flawed – Cop To Corpse, Stagestruck – to disappointing – The Last Detective, The False Inspector Dew. Even in the books that disappointed me, though, I could see the talent behind them. Hence my persistence with Lovesey’s work – there must be another book out there to match Bloodhounds.

I can’t actually remember where I got this book – probably a charity shop – but I’m very glad that I found it. It is an outstanding read and an outstanding mystery. As the story progresses, there are revelations about the various characters, each and every one of which is clued. Clued in such a way that you probably won’t spot the clues, but everything is there. The same goes for the revelation of the murderer as well – everything you need to know is on the page in front of you.

Cribb is an interesting detective – in the mould of someone like Poirot, his primary role in the book is to solve the crime, rather than to have a life crisis to pad the page count, but he has a dry wit. His associate, Constable Thackeray makes a nice contrast – an able policeman but just a little less imaginative and worldly-wise.

If I had a niggle… I had a little difficulty envisioning the set-up of the electric chair at first, but even so, it becomes clear well before the big reveal giving the armchair sleuth plenty of time to work things out – although, it must be said, the murderer eluded me.

In some ways, this book may be the closest thing to an Agatha Christie novel that I’ve ever read – and obviously that’s high praise. The name of the blog is In Search Of The Classic Mystery Novel – well, with this book, I think I’ve found it. Highly Recommended.

I bought this copy (I think) but all of Lovesey’s back catalogue – including The False Inspector Drew – whoops! – are available as reasonably priced ebooks.


  1. I really enjoyed the Cribb novels that I read back in the late 80s. I got caught up in the stories through the Mystery book club. I’ve got Abracadaver marked as a particular favorite. Unfortunately, I didn’t do reviews back then, so I don’t have any details. I’m sorry to hear that The False Inspector Dew was a disappointment. That one is on my TBR list for 2014.


  2. This sounds like my sort of thing. Electricity/electromagnetism/radiation etc. are underused in mysteries I think. I guess authors quail at all the explaining you need to do. I’ve not read any Lovesey, but the False Inspector Dew gets mentioned a lot. That linked edition is… um… wow… not doing much for the already low reputation of ebook editing standards. One for my collection of terrible book covers I think!


  3. This is a very good mystery. Humorous and entertaining. It is well clued. Towards the end it really becomes suspenseful and unputdownable. The solution is clever. I enjoyed reading it.
    The author was new to me. I am now interested to read his other books.


      • I have finished reading all 8 Sergeant Cribb novels and my ratings are as follows:
        Excellent: A Case of Spirits, Waxwork
        Good : Abracadaver, Wobble to Death, The Tick of Death
        Not worth reading: The Detective wore Silk Drawers, Swing Swing Together, Mad Hatter,s Holiday
        I have now started The False Inspector Dew


  4. I thought this was rather half-baked, to be honest. Not serious enough to be atmospheric, not funny enough to be comic. Not a patch on The False Inspector Dew (which has its own problems, but the general standard of writing and ambition is in a completely different league.) This felt like a talented author going through the motions to make his word count. I like the idea of the battle of wits implied by the solution, but I’d rather just be TOLD that story straight out. In a mystery format you just have to imagine it, because all the details are necessarily kept secret.

    And I’m unconvinced by the solution. Would the method work? Even if it could, I’m not convinced the galvanometer readings fit the facts as stated. The experiment went on for quite a while, and I don’t see how the readings could stay constant given the solution.

    Maybe I’m wrong about that, but one of the seance tricks is 100% definitely arse about face. Lovesey’s got himself confused, and in trying to provide an amusing clue that anyone can spot he’s done the one thing that proves that there COULDN’T be an accomplice to the trick. (Unless the medium is a total idiot. But even then, Sergeant Cribb’s reasoning wouldn’t make any sense.) It’s a shame, because Lovesey is usually pretty good at scams and cons, and that’s a big part of the appeal of reading mysteries about seances.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.