January 06, 2005

Diamond Dust, by Peter Lovesey

On our Peter Lovesey page, I give him the tagline "diamonds, not so rough"; I sometimes wonder if "red herring monger" would be more precise. But be that as it may.

I first encountered Lovesey's books shortly before this book came out, and I confess it stopped me in my tracks; it's only recently that I've begun reading his Peter Diamond novels again. And all this without my even reading it, mind you; just reading the flyleaf was enough to put me off. Why? In this book, Peter Diamond loses his beloved wife Steph. Although she hasn't had a major part in any of the books, she's had a persistent and important role in all of them--she's Diamond's anchor, his prop and stay, the thing that keeps him from going nuts, his island of peace. And in this book, she dies...and Diamond has to deal with it.

I hate that.

Having read the flyleaf I put the book back on the shelf and said, "Well, I think I'll wait for the paperback of this one...and maybe even longer than that." I hadn't even read enough of the flyleaf to find out how Steph dies; just the bare fact was sufficient.

And for quite a while, the only Peter Diamond books I saw on the shelves were this one and some I already had. About a month ago, though, I found two others nestled on the bookstore shelf next to this one, and decided that it was time to bite the bullet and get on with it, especially since I could begin with the other two books. I didn't know at the time whether they were written before or after Diamond Dust, and it didn't matter; it was all insulation.

You've perhaps noticed that I haven't said much about what's in the book, or how Steph dies, and I'm not going to. I'll just say that parts of it were indeed painful to read; Steph's death is a bad thing, bad for Diamond, and bad for us, and knowing that, I'd guess, Lovesey doesn't rub our noses in it. He portrays Diamond's grief simply and poignantly without wallowing in it.

The mystery that follows is as intricate and surprising as anything else of Lovesey's I've read, with red herrings galore, and I found the ending perfectly satisfying--which was yet another surprise.

But I rather suspect that if I'd tried to read it when it first came out, I'd have had more trouble. Living with the fact of Steph's death for a couple of years lent me some needed distance.

It might seem odd that I'd get so worked up over a mystery series, and indeed I've probably overstated my dismay. It wasn't heartbreak that caused me to put this book back on the shelf a couple of years ago, it was the wish to spare myself an unpleasant read. But either way, it's a tribute to Lovesey's skill.

Posted by Will Duquette at January 6, 2005 08:41 PM