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Thursday 9 August 2018

‘Beau Death’ by Peter Lovesey

Published by Sphere,
9 August 2018.
ISBN: 978-0-7515-7067-0 (PB)

A demolition crew’s wrecking ball smashes through the roof of an old terraced house in Bath and reveals the skeleton of a man wearing clothes of the style popular in the 18th century, including a blue coat and a black wig. Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond is determined to take a closer look but his imperfect control of the ‘cherry-picker’ crane required to get near to the crumbling crime scene provides an amusing press photograph that is swiftly circulated. Diamond’s Assistant Commissioner is not amused and declares that, as he has made the Bath police force a laughing stock, he can solve the mystery of the death and disposal of the unknown man.

Although Diamond’s team are unimpressed by having to spend their time on a crime that will probably prove to be historical, soon they get drawn into solving the mystery. Their interest is especially roused when it seems possible that the skeleton may be that of Beau Nash, the leader of fashion who had made Bath so important in Georgian England that he was given the nickname of ‘the King of Bath.’ Beau Nash had been unusual in wearing a black wig, like the unidentified skeleton. He had died old and impecunious and, for centuries, there had been historical controversy about where he was buried. He had been given a grand funeral in Bath Abbey but there were rumours that he had been buried in a pauper’s grave. Diamond thinks up several ingenious theories to explain how Beau Nash’s body had ended in the sealed-up attic of a small terraced house but, as so often happens in Diamond’s investigations, everything is not as it seems.

Life gets even harder for Diamond and his team when a new murder occurs during a firework display and they have to divide their resources. The team is already off-balance because of their enforced move from their old Headquarters and other budget cuts, which has resulted in too few officers and other resources, while serious crimes still need thorough investigation. Fortunately, Diamond has help from his friend and lover, Paloma, who is an expert on historical costume, and Paloma’s friend, Estella, who is writing a biography of Beau Nash. Estella puts Diamond in touch with the Beau Nash Society, who meet to celebrate Nash and Georgian Bath. Diamond finds himself committed to attending a meeting of the Society, which, to his horror and Paloma’s delight, involves him wearing full Georgian costume. However, he survives his ordeal and gathers some useful information, as well as making some helpful contacts, including the present ‘Beau’, Sir Edward Paris, a property tycoon, and his lively wife, Lady Sally.

Diamond knows that solving the contemporary murder must take precedence, but he is determined to find out the identity of the skeleton in Georgian clothing and discover the reason why his body was so incongruously concealed. Before the case is over it becomes clear that even historical detective work can be extremely dangerous.

Beau Death is the seventeenth book in the Peter Diamond series, but it is also a stand-alone novel, with the backgrounds of the series characters skilfully blended into the narrative. The characterisation is masterly, and the plot is fascinating, with some brilliant twists and turns and a nail-biting climax, all flavoured with Lovesey’s wonderful humour. The historical detail is engaging and the problems of contemporary policing during budget cuts is well-portrayed. Beau Death is a book which I read in two days. This is Peter Lovesey at his magnificent best. A page-turner.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Peter Lovesey was born in 1936, and attended Hampton Grammar School before going to Reading University to study fine art. He soon switched to English. National Service followed before Peter qualified as a teacher. Having already published The Kings of Distance, named Sports Book of the Year by World Sports, in 1969 he saw a competition offering £1,000 for a first crime novel and decided to enter. Wobble to Death won and in 1975 Peter became a full-time crime writer, winning awards including the Cartier Diamond Dagger in 2000 in recognition of his career in crime writing. He is most well-known for his Inspector Peter Diamond series. There are 17 books in the series.

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel,
The Deadly Dames. 
Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times. 
The Terminal Velocity of Cats the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.

To read a review of Carol latest book Strangers and Angels click on the title.

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