Lovesey, Peter. The Circle.

NY: Soho Press, 2005.

Lovesey is probably best known for his mystery series featuring Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond, and Diamond gets a one-page walk-on here, but the main cop is DCI Henrietta Mallin from Bognor — but even she’s not the main character and she doesn’t even show up till you’re nearly halfway through the story.

The narrator is Bob Naylor, a truck driver living in the ancient, rather quiet town of Chichester, who is widowed with an adolescent daughter, and who has no great expectations but is generally happy. He also enjoys making up rhymes — doggerel, not poetry, as he’s at pains to say — and at his daughter’s insistence (she doesn’t think he gets out enough), he looks in on the Chichester Writers Circle. He worries that he won’t fit in, that they’ll all be intimidatingly intellectual, but most of the small group are just ordinary people with a yearn to be published. To that end, they had had a publisher come and talk to them — but now, suddenly, he’s been murdered by arson. Bob, a forthright type who’s willing to help anyone who needs it, lets himself be drawn into the turmoil when suspicion falls on one or another member of the circle, and maybe his realistic, though amateur, approach is just what they needed.

The narrative is nicely done, following a group of confused, frightened civilians through the convolutions of a murder plot well before the police ever get themselves sufficiently organized to do any good. (That’s where Hen Mallin comes in.) The style is light and often witty, especially regarding the relationships among the amateur writers, but then the reality of death by fire will jerk you around the other way. I have to say, Lovesey’s later work is much better than his earlier efforts.


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