Stagestruck, by Peter Lovesey

July 15, 2011 at 8:42 pm (Book review, books, Mystery fiction, The British police procedural)

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.’

Peter Lovesey

9 Comments

  1. Angie Boyter said,

    SPOILER AHEAD!!!
    Didn’t you find it completely incredible that an ex-con could impersonate a dead man and get a job as a POLICE OFFICER? Either a superficial background check or a fingerprinting would have revealed the impersonation. To me, that almost spoiled the book.

    • Roberta Rood said,

      You know what, Angie – You’re right, really. It was incredible, and I should’ve mentioned in my review that the solution to the mystery was less than satisfactory. I guess I enjoyed the other aspects of the book so much that I gave Lovesey a pass on that highly improbable conclusion.

  2. kathy d. said,

    I just read The House Sitter by Peter Lovesey, and I enjoyed it, could not put it down, and laughed quite a bit. The ending was a bit annoying. I think it could have been better, but it didn’t take away from the book.

    I read at another website that the last book was not up to snuff.

    What Peter Diamond books would you recommend? I’d like to read a few more, but cannot take on an entire series at this point, as I’m already dedicated to several others at this point.

    And since I’ve rediscovered Nero Wolfe, I’ve lost all perspective on other books.

    If you read Fred Vargas, I cannot wait for your take on the brilliantly crazed An Uncertain Place.

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Kathy,

      I liked House Sitter too. In fact, I’ve liked everything I’ve read by Lovesey. Obviously there’s a split verdict on Stagestruck – I really loved it; others didn’t. With regard to the Peter Diamond series, I’d start with Bloodhounds & go from there.

  3. Yvette said,

    Roberta, I’m one who didn’t enjoy STAGESTRUCK. It was just not my cup of tea. And yet I consider myself a fan of Lovesey, I really do. I loved THE HOUSE SITTER. So far that’s been my favorite. The one I measure all the other books against. Maybe I ought to stop doing that. 🙂

    But I’ve also like some of the other earlier Diamond books.

    Still, I enjoyed reading your review, as always.

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Yvette,

      Differences of opinion on books are part of what makes the literary life so fascinating!

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Over the years, Yvette, I’ve been amazed by the books I shouldn’t have liked & did – & vice versa! So I definitely know where you’re coming from in regard to Stagestruck.

  4. kathy d. said,

    Yes! Differences of opinion on books make life interesting, especially hearing the whys and wherefores.

    Personal taste is fascinating. Mystery-reading friends of mine have such varied opinions of books that I am always astonished at the conversations.

    Some like thrillers, some don’t. Some want fast-paced books, others want characters who think a lot and are introspective. Some cannot stand violence on the pages, others don’t mind it. Historical fiction — Yes! No!
    Humor some enjoy. Others don’t get it. Donna Leon? Fred Vargas? Lee Child? Andrea Camilleri? Stieg Larsson? And on and on.

    So far, we’ve agreed on Michael Connelly’s books, Sara Paretsky’s books and Nemesis by Jo Nesbo. Beyond that, I can’t even guess.

    But it makes book discussions so interesting. And, I, who ends up getting and lending out books enjoy being the “librarian” who figures out who likes which books.

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Very interesting, and also quite entertaining. Thank you for sharing!

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