Peter Lovesey’s murderous tale set amid the backdrop of Bath reminded me just why I avoid this genre of fiction like the plague.
It must have been a whim. Otherwise I am at a loss to explain why I selected this book from the shelves of my local library. Well the front cover certainly looked intriguing…
I do recall thinking something along the lines of: Nothing to lose. Let’s give it a try. All of which goes to prove the old adage true enough.
Yet it all starts off promisingly enough; string quartets, stolen violas, Japanese groupies - overseen by a typically feckless anti-hero detective with the handle of Diamond.
Lovesey is certainly a master of his craft and the first half of this book bounds along at a fair old pace. When violinist Mel Farran is invited to join brilliant and eclectic string quartet The Staccati, a tale centred around the quirks and kinks of a group of classical musicians unfolds. Inspector Morse would have been salivating.
Apart from the curious vernacular accorded to a group of Japanese music students, the dialogue is punchy and the characters largely credible. As the newest member of the group quite a fair amount of attention is focused on Mel, a happy-go-lucky musician who gets his own kicks sleeping with his landlady’s teenage daughter.
Though central to the story it is never that clear whether Mel is to be taken as a good or bad guy. The longer the novel goes on the more this character fades into the background, until at the novel’s close he has become virtually invisible. Odd.
But it's ok because by this time reader sympathy has shifted to salt of the earth DI Diamond. Even more so because he’s recently been dumped by his girlfriend. Is there any fictional detective out there who is NOT afflicted by a catalogue of personal issues? I can only guess that it’s a cliché that is assumed to make our hero more interesting, or more likeable..?
From the second half onwards the reason why I don’t read these types of books becomes abundantly clear. In order to sustain the intrigue the plotting starts to get a little silly. Plots involving the Yakuza (the Japanese mafia) fake ivory and gambling debts rear their ugly head.
Diamond and friends start recapping, thinking aloud with the result that at times the pace drops to almost walking pace. Occasionally previous parts of the novel are repeated scene by scene.
But it’s when a feral former member of the quartet turns up in Bath – minus a finger (disagreement with said Yakuza) that you really start to feel the foundations of this novel starting to rock.
And the more the plot thickens, frankly the less credible it all becomes. It feels like the author is chasing his own head around. With so many cul-de-sacs and red herrings to work through, can the unravelling of such novels be anything but mechanical?
To be honest I found the last 50 pages of this – the final movement – to be hard going. It hardly helped that by this point I’d remembered a golden rule of detective fiction: the guilty one is always the one you least suspect.
And so it came to pass.
Having eliminated the two members of the quartet approximating to Norman Bates and Dr Jekyll, solving this case becomes child's play. When it does arrive the denouement is in fact rather flat, hasty even. The perpetrator confesses so readily to his/her crimes it's hard not to escape the feeling that somebody can't wait to put an end to this novel. Another convention of detective fiction?
My final impression is that Mr Lovesey’s talents are wasted writing this sort of slush. What do they say about politicians – that their careers always end in failure?
After reading The Tooth Tattoo I’d have to say it’s not just the vast majority of political careers that end underwhelmingly.