November 04, 2004

The Detective Wore Silk Drawers, by Peter Lovesey

In Wobble to Death we made the acquaintance of Sergeant Cribb and his hardworking assistant Constable Thackery as they investigate a murder that takes place during a fiendish kind of footrace called a "Six-Day Go-As-You-Like". This book, which follows shortly thereafter, continues the sporting theme with a look at prize-fighting.

In England in those days, the term "prize-fighting" invariably meant boxing with bare-knuckles--no gloves. Gloves were a recent innovation, and were utterly disdained by the "Fancy", the followers of the sport. (See my review of George MacDonald Fraser's Black Ajax for another view of the Victorian Fancy.) And in England in those days, bare-knuckle fights were illegal, and had been for quite some time. Such fights as were held, then, were always held out-of-doors in some remote location, and near the county border so that if the location were discovered by the local magistrates it could be easily continued in another jurisdiction.

As the present book begins, Sergeant Cribb is led to a body found floating in the Thames. The body is headless, but otherwise bears all the hallmarks of a bare-knuckle fighter. Someone has committed murder, and the murderer is almost certainly belongs to the Fancy. Time for some undercover work, and hence the silk drawers of the title.

In my review of Wobble to Death I noted that there wasn't anything particularly memorable about Cribb, but in this book his personality begins to emerge. He's clever, and is willing to do quite unorthodox things in pursuit of his investigations, as he shows when he enlists a young detective who's good with his fists to infiltrate the Fancy. Prize-fighting is illegal, and no exceptions are made for detectives working a case; both of their careers are at stake. And though he's loyal to his underlings in his own way, he has a remarkably cheerful--one might even say sadistic--lack of concern for their comfort, a trait that only increases in later books.

So, the book is better than its predecessor, in that Cribb and Thackery are more fully developed; otherwise it's much the same, and that classic Lovesey flair is still lacking.

Posted by Will Duquette at November 4, 2004 08:22 PM

Craig Clarke said:

This was the first Lovesey I ever tried, and I never picked up another. I guess maybe I should try again, since apparently this one isn't properly representative.

Will Duquette said:

'Tisn't, at all. Try any of the Peter Diamond series, or stay tuned for reviews of a couple of the later Sergeant Cribb books.