Everything a mystery should be: Skeleton Hill by Peter Lovesey

October 10, 2009 at 1:00 am (Book review, books, Mystery fiction, The British police procedural)

Peter Lovesey’s Peter Diamond series is set in the historic city of Bath, a World Heritage Site in the south west of England. Lovesey’s sense of the absurd is frequently evident in the unconventional opening passages of his novels. Witness The Vault:

“WPC Enid Kelly, on desk duty this afternoon, sneaked a look at the Asian man who had brought in a pizza box. She was sure of one thing: it didn’t contain a pizza….

Something bulkier than a pizza had been stuffed inside. Bulkier than two pizzas. ‘This I am finding at Roman Baths.’

‘What have you got here, sir?’

‘Some person’s hand, I am thinking.’

‘A hand?’

‘A hand I said.’

‘It was in this box?’

‘No, no, no. My lunch was in box. Tomato and mushroom pizza. This was best thing I could find to carry hand in.’

After reading this, it was a while before I could gaze upon a pizza box with the usual calm detachment…

skeleton As for Skeleton Hill, it begins thus:

“Two dead men lay on a battlefield and one said ‘Hey!’

The other stayed silent.

All manner of ills flow from this singular encounter, whose real meaning becomes clear as the plot gradually unfolds. And that plot is one that can actually be followed: it is cunning without being Byzantine. A skeleton is discovered on Lansdown Hill. (According to Charlie Smart, one of Diamond’s team, Lansdown is “…Bath’s back room…stuffed with things people want to forget about.”) The police must first determine whether the skeleton is that of a murder victim; secondly, they must find out the victim’s identity. The search follows a route  whose twists and turns constantly threaten to sabotage the entire investigation. To add to the tension and frustration, another murder occurs, in very strange circumstances. Peter Diamond feels certain that  the two crimes are connected, but he has a devil of a time proving it.

Skeleton Hill is witty without being vulgar; literate without being pretentious. The novel contains a wealth of fascinating facts concerning  Bath’s history; these are seamlessly woven into the plot. (Of especial interest are the references to William Beckford and his tower.)

In the Summer 2009 issue of Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine, George Easter has this to say about Skeleton Hill and its author:

” The excellence of Lovesey’s writing has been highly consistent over the years. When I open a new book by him my expectations are very high and they are always deliciously rewarded. One of the year’s best novels by a master storyteller.

I could have cried when I finished this one – I may not read another mystery this good for a long time to come…

Peter Lovesey

Peter Lovesey

4 Comments

  1. Martin Edwards said,

    Peter Lovesey is a wonderful writer. I’m really looking forward to reading this one myself.

  2. Crime fiction: good things in store… « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] at 8:54 pm (Mystery fiction, books) Despite my panic upon finishing Peter Lovesey’s superb Skeleton Hill, I am actually quite sanguine with regard to new mysteries by some of my favorite authors. Here are […]

  3. fan said,

    Simon Prebble, whose work on Ellis Peters’ Inspector Felse mysteries you have just praised, has also recorded Skeleton Hill. I have not heard it yet, but am very anxious to do so.

  4. Best books of 2009: my own favorites « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] on the Mountain by Ellis Peters The Water’s Edge by Karin Fossum Skeleton Hill by Peter Lovesey Pix by Bill James All My Enemies by Barry Maitland Strangers on a Train by […]

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