Book Review of the Week: Beau Death
A Peter Diamond Investigation
By Peter Lovesey
New York: Soho Crime, 2017, $27.95
Beau Death is a doozy. It’s multi-award-winner Peter Lovesey’s seventeenth Peter Diamond novel. The series started in 1991 with the stunning The Last Detective (Anthony Award). Readers addicted to Lovesey’s appealing detective and the charming environs of Bath, England, have followed Diamond’s career and personal progress from Diamond Solitaire (1992) through The Vault (1999), Diamond Dust (2002), The Stone Wife (2014), and others, including Another One Goes Tonight (2016).
This time Diamond deals with his coldest and probably most confounding case when a corpse is discovered during the demolition of terrace houses in Twerton, a Bath suburb. A wrecking crew reveals a body hidden in an attic dressed in authentic 18th-century garb. But it’s not just any 18th-century outfit. The skeleton is wearing a tricorn white hat and a distinctive black wig attributed to Richard “Beau” Nash. If it is the legendary Bath dandy and notorious gambler, it will turn history on its end. Biographers have put Beau’s body either in the Abbey or in a pauper’s grave. Diamond’s investigation leads him down several perplexing rabbit holes.
Diamond must depend on his whole team along with his lover, period costume expert Paloma Kean, and Beau’s latest biographer, Estella Rockingham, to unravel the riddle of the bones. When he calls in a forensic pathologist, the acerbic Dr. Claude Waghorn, for an anthropological autopsy, a peculiar detail of one of the hands and an undergarment throw the entire inquiry for a loop and sends it into a completely different direction.
Lovesey deftly handles several different narrative threads. Diamond’s Assistant Chief Constable, Georgina Dallymore, somewhat inebriated, is driving home from her sister’s when she spots what appears to be an apparition in the road. With a rear taillight out and concerned she might be stopped by the police, she pulls over and is picked up by Sally Paris, the wife of Ed Paris, a successful property developer and the current president of the Beau Nash Society. They develop a friendship that gets Diamond invited to the Beau Ball. The only catch is that he must go in full period regalia.
At the same time that the Nash investigation goes on, the city of Bath is host to the world fireworks competition finals to be staged at the Royal Crescent. A young Perry “the Pyro” Morgan is organizing the event. Paloma and Diamond attend on a date night and get caught up in another murder scene during the conclusion of the display.
Beau Death reaches a crescendo at the Beau Nash Ball. In a chapter filled with puns and antics, there are contrary hoop skirts in the anteroom, a hat topped with a Bath “bun,” and Ed unexpectedly announces his resignation as president. He puts forward Estella, the first time a female (who is also black) would lead the group.
Diamond is getting close to solving both cases—the identity of the corpse in the attic and the identity of the murderer at the fireworks display—when the novel culminates in another large, garish party. This time it is at the opulent home of the Parises. The final dramatic scene plays out against the setting of an infinity pool that functions only as an architectural decoration until Diamond puts himself in danger on the edge of the water.
The intricate series of plot lines is seamlessly interwoven at the charged conclusion. Lovesey seems to have outdone himself with the labyrinthine maze of multiple murders and mysterious conundrums.
–Robert Allen Papinchak