Lovesey, Peter. Skeleton Hill.

NY: Soho Press, 2009.

The author lives (or used to) in the Roman-founded spa city of Bath, which is mostly why his Detective Superintendent Diamond series is set there, and it makes a nice change from London and Yorkshire.

This time, though, the 700-foot-high limestone hill of Lansdown, that has always overshadowed Bath becomes one of the principal characters.

There was a Civil War battle on the hill in 1643 and the local reenactment society likes to commemorate the event. A couple of this year’s royalist pikemen turn up a femur in the roots of a large fallen tree, which comes to Diamond’s notice, and he has the rest of the bones excavated. He thinks they might be a fallen soldier from the original battle, but no — these are only around a quarter-century old. And they turn out to belong to a young woman. And the head is missing. Gotta be a murder, so Diamond puts his team to work. And shortly afterward, there’s a new murder in a cemetery on Lansdown, an apparently homeless man whom Diamond himself remembers seeing at the racecourse a few days before. He was obviously educated and well-groomed, though now pretty dirty from living rough. Something wrong here.

The plot sort of ambles along, both for the reader and for the detectives, gaining in complexity while not turning up much evidence at all. Diamond finds himself forced to share the two cases with Bristol CID, to his territorial annoyance. The search for the skeleton’s identity is an interesting process, carried out with eventual success by old-fashioned methods. And lurking in the background at every turn is the Lansdown Society, a small, private group of elitist and self-important guardians of the hill and all that goes on there. Just the sort of people who get up Diamond’s nose — especially since his boss, the Assistant Chief Constable, is also a member.

It’s a pretty good story and the author folds in a lot of local history going back to the Iron Age settlements on the hill. The plotting is well handled and the characters, both the returning crew and the one-offs, are nicely done.

Published in: on 22 September 2015 at 6:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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