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Tuesday, 13 March 2018

‘Beau Death’ By Peter Lovesey

Published by Soho Crime,
5 December 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-6169-5905-0 (HB)

From the publisher:  A wrecking crew demolishing a row of centuries-old townhouses in Bath, England uncovers a body in one of the condemned buildings’ attics.  The dead man has been in the attic a long time:  all that’s left is a skeleton dressed in authentic 1760s garb, and a distinctive white tricorn hat.  Could the body be that of Richard “Beau” Nash, Bath’s most famous historical dandy, the 18th-century Master of Ceremonies who turned Bath into the Georgian-era fashion icon it became, only to fall on hard times and supposedly be buried in a pauper’s grave?  Thrilled by the possibility of proving the body is the Beau, Detective Peter Diamond rushes to learn all he can about the famed Beau and what became of him, but is he on a historical goose chase?

The demolition is taking place as the novel opens.  An observer sees, “in the attic of the end house, now ripped open, a crumpled figure in an armchair.  The dust from the demolition had coated it liberally and it was a parody of the human form held together by what appeared to be long outmoded garments.”  It immediately appears that the man is “spectacularly, irreversibly, abso-bloody-lutely dead”.  As Diamond observes, “He’s been out of it a few years.  A few hundred years, if his clothes are anything to go by.”  What immediately concerns him is “why hadn’t anyone gone looking for him?  A missing person must have caused some concern, even a century or more before the police were created.”  A challenge to the famed detective, at the very least.  As he says to a colleague, “it’s a cold case and they don’t come colder than this . . . Anyone can see it’s an ancient set of bones.  It’s history, almost archaeology.” The first thing to be determined is whether or not it’s murder. When, soon after this discovery, there is another, current, murder. “Two sets of clues, two grids and two solutions.  Or perhaps one grid after all, one diabolically difficult cryptic challenge.”   He finds himself “dealing with two cases years apart.” 

The author really makes 18th century Bath come alive, and this fascinating novel is recommended.
Reviewed by Gloria Feit 

Peter Lovesey was born in 1936, and attended Hampton Grammar School before going to Reading University to study fine art. He soon switched to English. National Service followed before Peter qualified as a teacher. Having already published The Kings of Distance, named Sports Book of the Year by World Sports, in 1969 he saw a competition offering £1,000 for a first crime novel and decided to enter. Wobble to Death won and in 1975 Peter became a full-time crime writer, winning awards including the Cartier Diamond Dagger in 2000 in recognition of his career in crime writing.

Ted and Gloria Feit live in Long Beach, NY, a few miles outside New York City.  For 26 years, Gloria was the manager of a medium-sized litigation firm in lower Manhattan. Her husband, Ted, is an attorney and former stock analyst, publicist and writer/editor for, over the years, several daily, weekly and monthly publications.  Having always been avid mystery readers, and since they're now retired, they're able to indulge that passion.  Their reviews appear online as well as in three print publications in the UK and US.  On a more personal note: both having been widowed, Gloria and Ted have five children and nine grandchildren between them.

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