Hero to zero.
Cop to corpse.
While on foot patrol, a young beat cop named Harry Tasker is picked off by a sniper. This would be awful enough if it were an isolated instance. But it is not: Tasker is the third member of the Avon and Somerset force to be killed in this manner in the past twelve weeks.
Located in the South West of England, the police force known as The Avon and Somerset Constabulary covers the county of Somerset as well as the cities of Bath, Bristol, Wells, and several other jurisdictions. The Peter Diamond series is set primarily in Bath, where Peter Diamond makes his home – less of a home to him, sadly, since the loss of his wife Steph. (See Diamond Dust, 2002.)
One of the many joys of this series is the sense of place with which Lovesey endows his narratives. History is ever present, as here when an ambulance and police cars rush to the scene of Harry Tasker’s murder. As the emergency vehicles converge on Walcot Street, time stops for a moment, as we learn just what this place is:
Walcot street was created by the Romans. It is believed to have formed a small section of the Fosse Way, the unswerving road that linked the West Country to the Midlands. It runs north to south for a third of a mile, parallel to the River Avon, from St. Swithin’s Church – where Jane Austen’s parents were married in 1764 – to St. Michael’s, where it morphs into Northgate Street.
There’s more, but you get the general idea. Later, as Diamond and others are attempting to track a suspect, this happens:
The static alerted him again. ‘Sierra Three at Barton Bridge, repeat, Barton Bridge. We have a sighting.’
Barton Bridge, another of Bradford’s ancient structures, seven hundred years old, spanned the Avon only a few hundred yards from where Diamond was.
As Diamond and one of his team approach yet another bridge over the Avon, they find themselves approaching “…one of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s oddest indulgences, his railway viaduct disguised as a castle wall.”
(Maybe I’m a hopeless romantic, but to me it seems that dwellng in a landscape so rich in literary and historical associations would be very heaven!)
Cop To Corpse is not merely a travelogue; on the contrary, it’s a terrifically plotted mystery, a veritable page turner, with all the suspense one could desire from such a novel. There are some truly memorable set pieces, too. One involves Peter Diamond deep in a wood where the suspect has been sighted. What happens to him there is so sudden and bizarre – it had me gasping!
Lovesey writes great dialog, much of it spiked with sharp observation and wit. On one occasion, because both of his good suits are at the cleaners, Peter Diamond shows up for work in a rather quaintly rural get-up. Turning toward him to make a comment, one of his fellow investigators takes one look and asks in astonishment if he’s auditioning for a part in Midsomer Murders.
Since its inception, with The Last Detective in 1991, the Peter Diamond series has gotten better and better. If memory serves (which it doesn’t always), I’ve read all of them, plus two excellent standalones, The Reaper and Rough Cider. I’ve reviewed the following in this space: The Secret Hangman, The Headhunters, Skeleton Hill, and Stagestruck.