It’s not every day that a skeletal hand is… well, handed in to Bath Police Station. Discovered during excavations at the Roman Baths, it doesn’t seem to be a high priority for Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond – archaeology doesn’t really come under the job description. But it does come under his jurisdiction when the bones are only discovered to be only twenty years old, he reluctantly starts an investigation.
The vault where the bones were discovered has another interesting property – it was once part of the house where Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. An American professor is on a quest to find the provenance of a copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost which he believes once belonged to Mary Shelley – if he can trace the previous owners, maybe he can find more treasures from Shelley. But his obsession is alienating him from his wife, and when she disappears, he reports it to Bath CID. And then a woman’s body is found floating in the river…
This is Book Six of the Peter Diamond series. It’s a series that I’ve made a dreadful job of reading in order – my path through it currently stands at Bloodhounds (Book 4), Stagestruck (Book 11), The Last Detective (Book 1), Cop To Corpse (Book 12) and Upon A Dark Night (Book 5). I’m going to try and keep to order from now on – I think I’ve got the next two buried on my shelves upstairs. But in the meantime, what about this one?
It’s a good solid read with a nice line of sarcastic wit from Diamond himself. He’s a straightforward grumpy-policeman archetype, but Peter Lovesey uses that archetype in an entertaining fashion. The supporting investigators get a bit less to do, with the exception of Diamond’s sparring partner, DI Wigfull from the previous book, although… no, can’t mention that.
Plotwise, there’s a lot going on here with several strands – the skeletal hands, the dead body, the missing Shelley antiques, and a couple of other bits that I can’t mention. With so much going on, it was always going to be hard to tie everything up but Lovesey does a good job of it, despite having a reasonably small circle of suspects, although one aspect of the plot – the skeletal hand – does get put on the back burner for most of the narrative, which is fine, except that is the opening gambit of the tale, so I’d like to have seen a bit more on this strand.
Overall though, it’s a very enjoyably read – not quite up to the standard of Once Upon A Dark Night – but a strong entry in the series. I’ll definitely be back for more soon… Recommended.