Friday, June 15, 2012

Review of The Last Detective by Peter Lovesey (Time Warner, 1990)

A young woman is found floating naked in a lake, with no obvious signs as to how she was killed.  She seems vaguely familiar to many people but it takes a little while for her to be  identified.  Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond has been assigned to the case.  Diamond believes in old fashioned policing using clues and deduction, not overly relying on forensic evidence and fitting the facts around it.  He has a spiky, dominant personality and his staff live in fear of his wrath.  He’s also awaiting the report of an investigation into his conduct related to a miscarriage of justice case, and his usual DI has been replaced by a plant from head office to keep an eye on him.  As the case unfolds, Diamond feels he is pushing a lonely furrow, his team more interested in seeking a conviction rather than the truth.

The Last Detective is a police procedural in the traditional, British form - think Colin Dexter, John Harvey or Ian Rankin.  Lovesey tries to break the form up by varying the point of view, the book divided into parts, with each told from the perspective of a different character.  It’s a useful device to add some depth to what is a fairly mundane story.  The characterisation is good, although it’s difficult to warm to Diamond until near the end of the book and at that point his personality seems to have been transformed.  There is a good sense of place, the story clearly rooted in Bath and its surrounds, and there is nice contextualisation with respect to Jane Austen’s link to the city.  The plot works fine, having a couple of twists and turns, some misdirection, and good procedural detail with respect to the case and a trial, but ultimately, the book hinges on two events that both seemed weak to me.  Difficult to discuss without giving spoilers, but the dramatic change in Diamond’s life was needed as a plot device but didn’t ring true, and the resolution is based on a confession that comes very easily and seemed very unlikely.  Overall, an okay, straight up-and-down police procedural.

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