Lovesey, Peter. The Stone Wife.

NY: Soho Press, 2014.

This fourteenth episode in the investigative adventures of Superintendent Peter Diamond, head of the Bath CID, is partly pretty good and partly not so good, but it certainly starts with a bang — literally.

The focus this time (there’s always a topical focus in each of Lovesey’s novels — as happens in many mystery series, actually) is Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales, which most of us haven’t touched since high school. Chaucer was a diplomat and government official as well as a poet, and late in life he was given an income-producing sinecure in a small town near Bath. He probably had a house there, and now a sculpture has come to light in the basement of the small local museum depicting the Wife of Bath, one of the most interesting narrators in the Tales. It’s being auctioned off in Bath and the high bidder is a local professor, a Chaucer expert — but then there’s an attempted hijacking in the auction gallery, in front of the audience of bidders, and the professor, who tries to intervene, is shot and killed.

Diamond is there immediately with his team, and his first thought is to identify the source of the weapon. Most criminals in the UK don’t own firearms, which are very heavily controlled, so they generally rent them from a few dealers. And the best-known dealer in illegal firearms in the West Country is Nathan Hazael, a definite hard man. Ingeborg Smith, newly promoted to Detective Sergeant and always up for action, undertakes an undercover mission into Hazael’s heavily defended mansion in search of the murder weapon and much James Bond-ish action ensues — but it ends up having very little to do with the main plot. Likewise the character of the young and somewhat naïve Taiwanese up-and-coming pop singer with whom Hazael has apparently fallen in love. (Given Nathan’s bloodyminded personality, though, this part isn’t entirely believable.) And then DC Paul Gilbert, the enthusiastic youngest member of CID, goes missing while pursuing his own leads and Diamond is in a panic and feels responsible.

The final resolution of the mystery all comes together in the last chapter — and there aren’t really many hints ahead of time. It all just comes out of left field, which really isn’t playing fair with the mystery reader, however much it might actually happen in Real Life. And that suicide; not at all reasonable. While the action is good, and the characters (the regulars, anyway) are nicely delineated, this is one of the less satisfying in the series.

Published in: on 9 February 2016 at 8:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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