Lovesey, Peter. Diamond Solitaire.

NY: Mysterious Press, 1992.

I found the first book in this widely lauded series, The Last Detective (1991), to be singularly unimpressive and I frankly wasn’t in a hurry to continue with the adventures of an overweight police superintendent with a bullying personality. A friend whose literary opinions I generally respect, however, urged me not to give up on this character, so I decided to give Lovesey one more shot. And this second volume is a considerable improvement. But it still has problems.

Peter Diamond has been sacked as a result of being accused of slapping suspects around in the first book, so he leaves Bristol and Bath in a huff and goes back to London, where he lands a security job at Harrods. Then there’s an intruder alarm one night and a seven-year-old Japanese girl is discovered hiding on the 7th floor — Diamond’s floor, which he was supposed to have checked every inch of before closing. (They’re apparently terrified of terrorists.) So Diamond is out of work again. The little girl, who doesn’t speak, still hasn’t been claimed or even identified after several weeks, so she’s placed in the care of a small residential school for autistic children — and there Diamond, at loose ends, takes a renewed interest. He sort of attaches himself to the school, thinking he can somehow figure out where she belongs and get her back to her parents. And, gradually, he worms his way into the child’s confidence, though it takes a while for her even to focus on him. (She’s the quiet, non-screaming sort of autistic.) He even takes her on a TV talk show to publicize her plight. And then one morning, a Japanese woman appears at the door of the school, claims the girl, and takes her away (assisted by a thoroughly negligent housekeeper), leaving Diamond enraged and determined to get her back.

Meanwhile, there’s a whole other plot-line, rather less interesting and convincing than this one, set in New York and involving a pharmaceutical manufacturing company anxious for a big breakthrough to rescue its sliding stock. The mafia is involved, the head and founder of the company has just offed himself because he has terminal cancer, and his son (who would rather make indie films) has suddenly to take over the show. We get a lot of background on all these people, and the author alternates the two stories for awhile, but then he seems to abandon the plot about drugs and gives all his attention to Diamond’s chase from London to New York to Tokyo, tracking down leads, thinking hard, and making a nuisance of himself among other police departments on a global basis. His airfare and other bills are being footed by a champion sumo wrestler who just happened to be in London when that TV program aired, and he wants to help, too. A bit far-fetched, frankly, but it gives Lovesey a chance to show what little he knows about Americans and Japanese.

The whole thing comes together finally, with Diamond and the sumo guy sharing the limelight in the climactic scene, and it’s all very cinematic. The character of Superintendent Diamond is much more nuanced and controlled this time, which is a definite improvement — though it’s still questionable how any copper with his tantrum-throwing approach to the rest of the world ever managed to achieve high rank. Never mind that, at 250-odd quivering pounds, he would never pass the physical. The uneven pacing in the parallel narratives is perhaps a matter of personal taste, but for most readers it probably will be balanced out by the headlong action in the second half of the book. The descriptive passages are certainly well done and the cameos of cops and bystanders are very adroit. And Diamond ends this adventure still perusing the employment ads in the paper. I guess I’ll have to hunt up the third episode and see what happens to him next.

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