Sara Paretsky on Peter Lovesey

SARA PARETSKY created female private eye V.I.Warshawski in 1982, changed the face of crime writing and became an inspiration to women (and some men) writers. She was the founder of Sisters in Crime and is the new Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America.

I have been a Peter Lovesey fan since first reading his Sergeant Cribb novels, but my favorite of Lovesey’s characters has always been Peter Diamond, the irascible, technophobic deputy superintendent with the Bath and Avon police. In Stagestruck, the newest Peter Diamond mystery, Bath’s Theatre Royal is the beautifully realized setting for a mystery as intricate as the backstage wings, flies, and dressing rooms of the theater itself.

For writers, the theater has always been a perfect breeding ground for murder. Perhaps because plays strip away the gloss we put on top of ambition or jealousy or even love, actors, directors—and wardrobe mistresses—also give way to intense emotions behind the scenes.

In Stagestruck, a fading pop star takes a leading role in a play at the Theatre Royal. Minutes into opening night, something in her make- up badly burns her face. Suspicion falls on the assistant wardrobe mistress who helped with her make up, but as is always true with Lovesey, things are never what they seem. When the assistant herself is found dead, an apparent suicide, Diamond is pressured to end the investigation. Readers know it was murder, and finally, Diamond’s boss—a wonderful study of a bureaucrat in action—is forced to agree with us, and with the superintendent.

Lovesey is a master of the crime novel. The regulars on Diamond’s team—Ingeborg, Keith Halliwell, the unimaginative John Leamann—are vivid characters in their own right. The dynamic among them, and between them and Diamond himself, is what brings the reader back, as much as Lovesey’s masterful plotting. Lovesey has perfected what I call “the hand is quicker than the eye” school of crime writing. Nothing is concealed from the reader, and we learn the truth along with Diamond, but we also are deceived, like Diamond, through a series of plausible miscues until the awful truth is finally revealed.

As is true of everything Lovesey writes, the history and descriptions of place are not just impeccable, but also are woven so seamlessly into the story that you absorb them along with the mystery and the characters.

I’m jealous of everyone discovering Lovesey and Diamond for the first time—you have a wonderful backlist to catch up on. Me, all I can do is wait for the next book.