Lovesey, Peter. The Secret Hangman.

NY: Soho Press, 2007.

It’s been three years since the wife of Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond was murdered in Bath’s Victoria Park, and he thought he had come to grips with his loss, but being called out to view the body of another woman in the same park early one morning is very unsettling. This one is hanging by the neck from a piece of playground equipment, but what was at first assumed to be a suicide quickly proves (of course) to be murder.

Then, two days later, her domestic partner is also found hanged in public. Now the guess, only partly supported by the early investigation, is that he murdered her and then killed himself. That’s good enough for Diamond’s boss, who wants this one wrapped up and filed away.

But then DC Ingeborg Smith, an ex-freelance journalist (and a red-haired knockout), who changed careers a few books ago, digs up a previous pair of hangings that took place back when Diamond was dealing with the search for his wife’s murderer and had no attention to spare for anything else. The old case was judged a double suicide but there are too many points of similarity to the new case, and Diamond doesn’t believe in coincidence. (I have to say, though, that it seems very unlikely that no one else on the homicide squad would remember the first two hangings in what was only their recent past, especially in a small city like Bath.) The plot develops slowly, with the police systematically trying to figure out what’s going on, carrying out interviews with people who might or might not be suspects, and following up leads that turn out to be red herrings. In that way, it’s quite a good detective story and in my case it took until the last forty or fifty pages for the penny to drop.

But there’s more. Diamond meets a woman only a few years younger than himself in whom he finds himself becoming interested and with whom he strikes up a relationship — with a few wince-producing blunders along the way, because he hasn’t done this sort of thing in a long time. She’s divorced, a successful businesswoman with a grown son and considerably more money than Diamond, and she seems to really like him (which he finds a little hard to believe).

In addition to that, there’s been a spate of “ram raids,” in which stolen vehicles are smashed into the storefronts of businesses with small, valuable, easily-fenced merchandise to steal. Diamond’s right hand, DI Halliwell, is in charge of that case, and they think the opportunity has arisen to trap the villains, but things don’t go as expected.

This one is an above-average mystery, well plotted and paced, and well up to the author’s standard. However, note than religious fanatics in the U.S. may have their noses yanked out of joint. (Too bad.)

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