Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Diamond Solitaire: Peter Lovesey

This is the most unusual police procedural mystery I have ever read. I categorize it as a police procedural because much of the legwork does take place in a police department setting, even though the protagonist, Peter Diamond, is ex-CID, due to difficulties in his last assignment in the department.

At the beginning of this book, Diamond is sacked from his job as a security guard at Harrods in London, and in such a way that he cannot get work in that area again. He is at loose ends, although he is actively searching for a job. Much of the action early in the book takes place in London, where Diamond and his wife have moved after he loses his CID job. They are living in an unpleasant flat which Peter is trying to improve with paint and other handyman jobs.

The cause of the sacking at Harrod's is the discovery of a young Japanese girl hidden behind a mound of cushions on a sofa in the area that Diamond was patrolling. The young girl is mute and exhibits symptoms of autism. No one claims her. She is placed in a home for autistic children, and given the name Naomi. Diamond becomes very interested in tracing her identity and returning her to her family.


The story is somewhat unbelievable, but I did not have any problems stretching my disbelief and going along with the story. There is second plot thread about a large pharmaceutical company, with a facility in Milan which is blown up and obvious connections to criminal elements. It is clear that the two plots will come together in the end, and this lends more credence to the long, slow journey that Diamond follows to help the young girl. There is a wonderful scene where a famous Sumo wrestler becomes Diamond's champion in his cause to find Naomi's identity and promises to provide all the funds he needs to search for her.

I don't want to imply that the book is too leisurely. At a bit over 300 pages, the length is just right. There is a build to the point where all the plots come together. About midway in the book the pace picks up. There is an abduction, a journey to New York City and Japan, and lots of action.

I enjoyed the book throughout, including the methodical way Diamond looks for clues and the patience he exhibits in getting to know Naomi. In the end, I was most impressed by the emotional connection that Diamond has with Naomi. She isn't just a case for him to while away the hours. He truly cares. Along with his search for her identity, he hopes to find that her muteness is not a result of autism, but related to the trauma she has experienced.

I also liked the relationship he has with his wife, who endures his attempts at do-it-yourself projects that cause more problems than they fix, and supports him fully in his unusual project to find out who Naomi is and why she was abandoned.

I love this quote from The Guardian:
Here is a classic quest story intertwining kidnapping, murder, deception, fraud and farce with a Sumo wrestler in the unlikely role of fairy godmother. Lovesey sustains his reputation as a deft mystifier in one of the choicest crime-shelf entertainments of the year.
There are now 15 books in the Peter Diamond series. Diamond Solitaire is the 2nd book in the series, and I did read the first one years ago. I liked it so much I collected a few more of them, but it took me a long time (twelve years) to get to this one. Now I am glad I did.

LaVonne Neff at Lively Dust describes the books...
Not noir at all, actually. These books are about 3/4 police procedural, 1/4 comic novel.
The books have many funny touches, but they are subtle. The same reviewer talks about the series here. This is actually a review of Cop to Corpse, the 12th in the series, but she went on to read all the rest of the series before that book, and summarized her thoughts:
So what about beginning a detective series with the last book? After reading the earlier Peter Diamond volumes, I re-read Cop to Corpse. I liked it better the second time around, now that I knew more about the detective and his city. My advice? Don't start this series with book 12. If you're patient and methodical, read the books in the order they were written. But it's also fine to begin reading somewhere in the middle. If you want to get well acquainted with Peter Diamond (and don't mind spoilers), start with Diamond Dust. If you're a fan of cozies, go for Bloodhounds or The Vault. If you lean toward thrillers, try The Summons. Or just grab a Peter Diamond book at random and start reading—the whole series is a delight.
I am convinced, which is a good thing, since I already have books 3 through 7.

See John Grant's review at Goodreads.

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Publisher:   Soho Press, 2002 (orig. pub. 1992)
Length:      327 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:       Peter Diamond #2
Setting:      London, New York City, Japan
Genre:        Police Procedural
Source:      I purchased my copy.


13 comments:

  1. That's one of the things I like about Lovesey's writing, Tracy. He creates some unusual stories that feature memorable characters. Yes, he asks us to 'go along for the ride' at times. But still, the stories are worth it. Glad you enjoyed this one.

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    1. I have read a few other books by him, Margot, and I should have realized how much I would like this one, just based on those experiences.

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  2. What a coincidence, Tracy. I'm writing about Peter Diamond in my post as well. But not this book. Phew! It will be online after midnight (it's just my pedantic way) so officially it will be Friday. Reading your review didn't ring any bells and I've figured out that this must be a Diamond book I haven't read. Luckily, my library has the whole series on its shelves.

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    1. I look forward to reading your review tomorrow, Yvette. You are lucky to have that access to the whole series. Since I have the next five, that will keep me busy for a while, and I will probably find some inexpensive copies of the others at a book sale coming up.

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  3. Of all the books in the series I have read, and I say this as a great fan of Lovesey, this seemed to me by far the weakest - more of a thriller than a mystery too, which plays less to the author's strengths it seems to me.

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    1. Guess it depends on what each reader is looking for, Sergio. This one was great for me, although I was expecting a straightforward police procedural. I will have to see how I like the rest of them. From what I have read in reviews of later books, he continues to be computer phobic and curmudgeonly. I definitely like less computer stuff in mysteries. We will see about the rest.

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  4. You've nearly sold me on trying the series start to finish, but I shouldn't. I do have one or two so will stick to that I think!

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    1. I think it is fine just to sample the books, Col. And he has written some other series and standalone books, too, although those might be less your cup to tea.

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  5. I've read a lot of Lovesey, and am a big fan of Diamond, so started to read this thinking I would recognize it. I then had to check up: I read it in Dec 95, but absolutely nothing of what you write about it makes it sound familiar in the least! I need to take another look on it. I think Lovesey's books vary a lot, but always worth a look.

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    1. I was very surprised at this book, Moira. (But in a good way.) Very unlike what I remember of the first book in the series, but I did read that in 2002.

      I have read different Lovesey books over the years, The False Inspector Dew, some of the Sergeant Cribb books, and Rough Cider sounds familiar but not sure about that one. I definitely will read more, and not just the Peter Diamond series. Just too many good authors to read.

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  6. Tracy, I find the character of Peter Diamond believable and realistic, and I like that in a story; especially the little things like Diamond's passion for DIY that often elevates what might otherwise be a tame mystery.

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    1. Good point, Prashant. Those are the things that humanize a character.

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