2013: The Tooth Tattoo
Peter’s latest, The Tooth Tattoo, was published by Sphere in the UK on 4 April 2013 and by Soho Press in the USA on 10 April 2013.
The Tooth Tattoo reviewed in The Daily Mail:
For his latest outing, the thoroughly unpretentious Peter Diamond of Bath CID finds himself adrift in the world of classical music. What is the link between members of a highly regarded strong quartet and he death of a Japanese student who had come to Bath to hear them play? . . . Vivid characterisation and convincing dialogue confirm Lovesey’s reputation as a master storyteller.”
The Tooth Tattoo In The Washington Post
I hasten to add that readers who, like me, know little or nothing about string quartets (my musical highlight each year is the Birchmere’s Hank Williams tribute) can still savor this ingenious novel.
At the outset, Peter Diamond, who heads the criminal division of the Bath, England, police, is vacationing in Vienna with his elegant friend Paloma. She wants to visit Beethoven’s home, but he’s more interested in seeing highlights — the sewer, the Ferris wheel — of Carol Reed’s Vienna-based 1949 movie classic, “The Third Man.” As they wander, the couple chance upon a flower-strewn memorial to a young Japanese woman who drowned in the Danube a few years earlier. Paloma is moved by the tragedy, but it’s not Diamond’s case, so he’s indifferent. Naturally, she berates him for his alleged inability to express his feelings. “What do you expect?” the detective retorts. “I’m a bloke.”
In this country he’d say, “I’m a guy,” but it’s all the same. So is the outcome: The argument escalates, he stubbornly defends his right to be a guy, and she dumps him.
Soon the drowned woman in Vienna becomes newly relevant when another young Japanese woman is fished out of a canal in Bath — for that is Diamond’s case. He learns that both women loved string quartets, and that Staccati was playing in both Vienna and Bath at about the time they went missing — and possibly were murdered. One of the women had a “tattoo” on her tooth that featured a musical note, although they really aren’t tattoos but small chips that can be glued on. That’s the source of the book’s title, which is the only thing I didn’t like about it.
We soon learn a lot about the four members of Staccati. Ivan, a dour Russian violinist, co-founded the group with a woman called Cat, who is huge (“the girth of a sumo wrestler”), bawdy and a virtuoso on the cello. Andrew, the second violinist, is brilliant musically, although he rarely speaks and is thought by the others to be autistic. Finally, there’s Mel, the newcomer to the group, who plays the viola, chases girls in his spare time and was recruited to replace Harry, who mysteriously vanished after a concert in Budapest. The four argue a lot and have little in common except their love of music, but that’s enough to keep them together.
Lovesey has won many prizes for his crime fiction; we expect fine writing and devilish plots from him. But the wonder of this novel is how deep he carries us into the world of a string quartet. He knows the music, and he makes clear its beauty, its challenges and the passions it arouses in both musicians and their audiences.
One highlight of the novel is a two-page, all but microscopic description of the quartet’s rendition of Beethoven’s Opus 131. Here’s a small sample: “Toward the middle of the first movement the violins speak to each other with the last six notes of the fugue motif and then viola and cello take up the dialogue in one of the loveliest passages in the entire quartet repertoire.”
This novel will probably teach you more than you ever expected to know about string quartets. Did you know that celebrated players often use instruments on loan from wealthy collectors? Mel is using a rare 1625 Amati viola, valued at more than a half-million dollars, and only too late he discovers that there’s no such thing as a free viola.
You’ll learn of their frustrations, too. Cat denounces what she calls the “music merchants,” of whom she says: “They take second-rate artists with pretty faces, groom them, call them the voice or the player of the century, and turn them into stars. . . . The quality of the sound is crap, they’re off-key, and the great gullible public doesn’t seem to notice.”
Eventually, the deaths of the two young women are followed by that of someone close to the group. We agonize over whether one of these dedicated musicians could be a killer — or is the culprit an outsider? — but Diamond sorts things out with his usual aplomb. Lovers of good music and a good mystery should not miss this delightful tale.”
The Tooth Tattoo in The New York Times:
Lovesey’s droll humor is on ample display as the members of Diamond’s investigative team poach ideas from “CSI” and tease their gloomy chief for behaving like the depressive Scandinavian policemen in popular fiction (There are also inside jokes for the musically minded like the one about Odessa being the source of all the world’s great string players). Even the murder investigation is fun, but in its own peculiar way; but for death-defying thrills, nothing quite compares to the Staccati swinging into Beethoven’s Quartet in C sharp minor.”
Photo by Kate Shemilt