Written by Peter Lovesey — This author has a long and distinguished history in British crime fiction and his belt sports just about every kind of dagger the Crime Writers’ Association awards. He even served as CWA chairman for a spell back in the 90s. Cop to Corpse sees the return of the Bath-based Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond in his 12th outing.
The book opens with the shooting of beat-walking cop Harry Tasker. He’s gunned down by a sniper in the small hours and is the third Somerset policeman to die in this way. In real life a shooting in Bath is extremely rare. The killings are just about the only artistic license taken with the city. If you know Bath and the surrounding area, you’ll find Lovesey’s portrayal of it particularly satisfying. He captures it far better than any tourist’s camera and weaves dozens of real locations into the plot, which enriches the story no end. But of course, in Lovesey’s Bath the Somerset Sniper is on the loose.
The funny thing is, the police nearly manage to catch Tasker’s killer on the very night of the his death, but a macho play by the duty inspector means he ends up in a coma and the assassin slips away. Wells and Radstock were where the other two killings took place, but when gunfire and a suspicious character are reported in the woods near Bradford on Avon, just inside Wiltshire, police from that county join the hunt. Plus the Serial Crimes Unit gets involved. Heading Bath’s CID investigation, Diamond’s diplomacy is tested with the higher-ups, the other units, and with his own minions. Fiesty female detective Ingeborg, and Diamond’s stalwart subordinate Halliwell, are both flabbergasted when he develops the theory that the killer might be another cop.
The police characters are brilliantly drawn, and Lovesey puts them under all sorts of duress. Their poor manners and deliberate baiting of one another are just the tip of the iceberg. Diamond gets run over by a motorcyclist early on and relies on a crutch through most of the story. There are dobermans, high-powered weapons, neo-fascists, face-bashings and even a bit of good old grappling in the mud.
Lovesey’s writing is snappy but that’s not the only thing that keeps you alert. He throws in real clues and red herrings all the way along. Every few chapters the book switches to a secondary storyline which is delivered in blog entries. Three women are trying to solve a parallel crime and one is blogging about their exploits. Does it have a bearing on the Somerset Sniper case? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
The story, setting and characters all work well but if there’s a flaw, the mystery itself seems to run out of punch about three quarters of the way through. Perhaps there are a few too many twists and changes of focus, and when the crimes are finally solved it’s only partially satisfying.
Lovesey’s a master at delivering story and dialogue though, and if you’re used to his style and can seive out the red herrings you might be better at working out whodunnit before it’s revealed than I was. Cop to Corpse is a clever and solid police procedural with a lot of true-to-life texture to it and certainly makes for worthwhile reading, particularly if you’ve been following Diamond’s exploits in the past.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars