The horseshoe-shaped auditorium was in darkness. Its crimson, cream and gold decorations were just discernible, the silk panels, the gilded woodwork, garlands and crystal chandelier giving a sense of the antique theatre that this was, essentially no different from the interior known known to the actors who first played here in the reign of George III.
Peter Lovesey has delivered yet another surefire entertainment with Stagestruck. This time, Chief Superintendent Peter Diamond is faced with a particularly baffling crime – or rather series of crimes, all of which take place within the precincts of Bath’s storied Theatre Royal. The production being thus bedeviled is John Van Druten’s I Am a Camera, the play upon which the musical Cabaret is based. ( In the writing of this play, Van Druten in turn drew his inspiration from Christopher Isherwood‘s Berlin Stories, in particular “Goodbye to Berlin.”)
I did have some issues with this novel. One has to do with the way in which Lovesey makes use in the plot of the phenomenon of self-harming, or self-injury. Also, there’s a death that’s immediately presumed by the police to be a suicide. If I, the reader, know – or at least strongly suspect – that it was actually a murder, why don’t they? They’re the ones who are supposed to be brainy and skeptical regarding these matters!
Nevertheless, Peter Lovesey is an author who almost never disappoints, and he certainly didn’t disappoint me with Stagestruck. The novel is rich with the lore of the Bath Theatre in particular and British theatrical custom and practice in general. Peter Diamond himself is a complex and interesting character. He has managed to survive a devastating personal tragedy but finds that there are still inner demons he must conquer in order to be the best policeman, indeed the best person, that he can be. Luckily, his efforts are aided by an exceptional team of officers, in particular the intuitive and feisty DC Ingeborg Smith. He also has the support and sympathy of his friend Paloma Kean, an expert on the period fashions often used in theatre and film.
Stagestruck provides liberal helpings of the sparkling dialog we’ve come to expect from this author. Here, Peter Diamond is attempting to gain entrance to a country house where a fundraising fete is in progress. He’s in search of Francis Melmot, Chairman of the Theatre Trust and titular lord of the manor. But first he must get past that gentleman’s Dragon Lady of a mother, whom he initially mistakes for Melmot’s wife:
‘Is your husband on the premises?’
‘I hope not. He’s dead.’ She announced it as if talking about a felled tree, in the matter-of-fact tone of the well-raised Englishwoman.
There wasn’t anything adequate Diamond could say, so he waited for her to speak again.
‘He shot himself in 1999. Six pounds, please.’
Stagestruck is a worthy successor to Skeleton Hill. I am deeply grateful to Peter Lovesey for this marvelous series of procedurals. I’ve also enjoyed two of Lovesey’s standalones, Rough Cider and The Reaper. In addition, he’s the author of the Sargeant Cribb novels set in Victorian London. These last were memorably filmed. And now Janet Rudolph brings us word that the Peter Diamond books might also be brought to television. Promoters of Bath tourism would like to see this series do for Bath what Inspector Morse did so spectacularly for Oxford.
I say yes, YES! Oh thou tourism gurus, make the films, taking great care in the casting of Peter Diamond. Give us gorgeous visions of the city of Bath. Get Barrington Pheloung to do the music. I promise I’ll come to Bath, bring friends, and spend lots of money!
In Stagestruck, Peter Lovesey pays a nice tribute to the Morse films. It occurs when Dr. Sealy, the pathologist, has been summoned to perform his dolorous duties. He’s very put out because when the call came, he’d been in the midst of watching an Inspector Morse film he’d not previously seen:
‘Give me strength! This is the real bloody thing,’ Diamond said.
‘Without the culture.’
‘Do you want me to hum the Morse music?’
‘Frankly, old boy, if you sang the whole of Die Meistersinger, it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference.’