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War novel? Vampire novel? No, it’s just Peter Lovesey again.

Two men lay dead on a battlefield and one said “Hey!”

That’s my new favorite first line from a novel. If you don’t know anything else, you might be pardoned for making some assumptions as to the novel’s genre. Two men are dead on a battlefield. War novel? Two dead men are having a conversation. Vampire novel?

Both guesses would be supported from the text, and both would be wrong. That is the first line of Skeleton Hill, Peter Lovesey’s tenth Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond novel.

After the bait-and-switch of the first line, anything is possible, up to and including someone getting murdered twice. Yes, twice, that’s what I said. I’m not even going to get into the whole schizophrenia of setting a crime fiction series in Bath, associated more with Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer than bloody murder.

But bloody murder it is, and Diamond is on the trail of not one but two murders, one in the present day which may be related to the skeleton found on the hill (see title), buried there fifteen years ago. Throw in a day at the races, a brief excursion into the history of zippers, an understanding girlfriend, a determinedly obstructive boss, and a wary team of coppers on loan from Bristol down the road. Season with only the best prose and the result is as enjoyable an evening of reading as I’ve lately come across. I especially like the little throwaway lines of Diamond’s internal dialogue, featuring that marvelously understated and for all I know patented British humor, as in

‘Incidentally, the head was hacked off with some force, going by the state of the vertebrae.’
Diamond had a brief, vivid image. It wasn’t long since he’d eaten breakfast.

and

‘…If your thoughts are on sex, do you carry a spade in your car?’
A pause while he regretted phrasing it that way.

and

The Bristol team…[had] found the canteen and liked the all-day breakfast. They might even survive a few days in Bath.

and

He switched [his mobile] off. Right off…Mobiles had their merits after all and one was to achieve non-communication.

Comrade!

There are ten other novels in Lovesey’s Peter Diamond series, including the most recent one, Stagestruck. Good to know.

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