Beau Death by Peter Lovesey - book review

When the demolition of an old cottage exposes the skeleton of a man dressed in eighteenth-century clothes, an extraordinary chapter of Bath's history looks like it may well have to be rewritten.

Tuesday, 7th August 2018, 2:01 pm
Updated Tuesday, 7th August 2018, 2:08 pm
Beau Death by Peter Lovesey
Beau Death by Peter Lovesey

All the clues suggest the remains belong to Richard ‘Beau’ Nash, the celebrated dandy, gambler and leader of fashion who gave himself the title ‘King of Bath’ and helped to turn the city into one of the most fashionable places in England.

It’s a tricky case for Bath’s most experienced detective Peter Diamond, particularly as murder cannot be ruled out… so how do you solve a centuries-old killing when all potential witnesses and suspects are dead?

For over forty years, award-winning crime writer Peter Lovesey has been delighting us with his clever mystery novels. His very first book, Wobble to Death, published in 1970, won a writing competition and the master storyteller has never looked back, garnering fistfuls of accolades and prizes in the world of international crime writing.

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Lovesey’s fans adore his clever, complex, perfectly plotted mysteries and the Peter Diamond series, which focuses on a quirky CID boss with a fine line in crime detection and cynicism, is that tantalisingly perfect blend of intrigue and humour.

Beau Death is the seventeenth outing for Bath’s intrepid Detective Superintendent Diamond, and both the cop and his talented creator are on top form in a case that features a fascinating mystery from the past and a murder most foul in the present.

The old-fashioned wrecking ball crashing through the roof of an old terraced cottage was a spectacle in itself for a crowd of onlookers but when the demolition reveals a skeleton in full 18th century clothes sitting on a chair in the attic, it turns into ‘a treat for voyeurs.’

One of the first on the scene is Detective Superintendent Diamond who is hoisted high in a cherry picker to take a close look at the unusual remains and is able to declare unequivocally that the man is ‘real – and well and truly dead.’

The skeleton is dressed in Beau Nash’s distinctive garb of black wig and white tricorn hat, but how could these possibly be the remains of Nash whose body is said to have ended up in a pauper's grave? If it is Nash, says Diamond, ‘it’s a cold case and they don’t come colder than this.’

Diamond is ordered to investigate the Nash theory, but grappling with historical events causes ructions in his team until everyone is diverted by the fatal shooting of the man in charge of a fireworks display on the Royal Crescent lawn.

But Beau Nash refuses to be ignored… and when astonishing new facts emerge about the case, Bath’s history is turned on its head, and mysteries ancient and modern are fused in a devastating climax.

With his trademark style and light touch, Lovesey takes us through a mesmerising maze of clues and conundrums as the wonderfully wise and witty Diamond follows his instincts and makes sense of a case that twists and turns through a 250-year-old mystery and a murder in one of Bath’s most fashionable quarters.

Lovesey has fun raking through the life, times and twilight days of Beau Nash as the Bath police team try to decide if the skeleton really is the legendary master of ceremonies, or just a deliberate ploy that is sending them on a wild goose chase.

As always, Diamond’s gift to the complex investigation is to make wry observations as well as to visually observe, while his turbulent relationship with obtuse boss, Assistant Chief Constable Georgina Dallymore, provides the comedy sideshow to an absorbing case.

So sit back and enjoy the master at work…

(Sphere, paperback, £8.99)