OP-ED: 'Stagestruck': Two Peters and a Crime

By Shelly Reuben
Shelly Reuben
Shelly Reuben
Peter Lovesey, British crime novelist and winner of every writing award imaginable, has created an exceptional namesake in the character of Peter Diamond, Chief Superintendent of the Criminal Investigation Department in Bath, England.  Having just read Stagestruck, the eleventh novel in this series, I have been drumming my fingers against my skull, trying to figure out why I like Peter Diamond so much, and what sets him apart from the deluge of detectives invented by so many other authors.

First, let me tell you a little about Peter Lovesey himself.  He is tall, slim, handsome, witty, intelligent, and funny.  He is not, however, his fictional creation.  

Peter Diamond is smart, tenacious, and grumpy.  He struggles with his weight, lacks diplomacy, is no fan of technology, and operates his car so slowly that he could literally drive other motorists mad.

What do both Peters have in common?

Other than great brains and beautiful, bright, indulgent, and loving wives (until the real Peter killed off fictional Peter’s Stephanie in Diamond Dust), both men are impeccable gentlemen.  

What relevance can this possibly have to a book review?  

A big one, because in the course of reading Stagestruck, I realized how enjoyable it was to spend time with an adult male crime solver who was not (1) depressed, (2) drug dependant, (3) sleeping with other men’s wives, (4) self-flagellating, (5) at odds with his children, miserably unhappy, and divorced.  

Right.  You figured it out.  I’ve been reading the Scandinavians!  First, Henning Mankell.  Then, Stieg Larsson (whose books contain interminable scenes of depraved and monstrous sex).  

In an article about Scandinavian authors in the LA Times, Julia Keller wrote:  “It is a world of bleak twilights and tortured souls… of cold dawns and dour sleuths…of frozen lakes and repressed detectives.”

I am sick of dour, depressed, repressed, and tormented cops.  In stage terminology appropriate to Peter Lovesey’s new novel:  Enter antidote – Peter Diamond.  

Chief Superintendent Diamond gets along with women.  He adored his wife and grieved her death.  He has found a new lady love with whom he can discuss his cases, and he treats her with respect.  He is normal.  He is civilized.  He is independent without being abrasive (well.  Okay.  He can be a little abrasive), and most importantly – echoing the sentiments of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot who solved mysteries not too many years ago – he does not approve of murder.

That established, let’s see what Chief Superintendent Diamond is up to in Stagestruck

Most of the action takes place during a revival of I Am A Camera in The Theater Royal at Bath.  The play, about decadent 1930s Berlin, stars Clarion Calhoun, a rock star with minimal theatrical training whose career, up until now, has only required her sing and be idolized by a shrinking number of fans.  

Concerned about her dwindling celebrity, Clarion accepts the invitation of Francis Melmot, Chairman of the theater’s board, to star in the play.  Melmot, an imposing man who lives at Melmot Hall “where Melmots had lived since the Restoration,” believes that Clarion’s fame will sell tickets to his production.  

He’s right.  The opening night is a sellout.  

“A burst of applause from her fans” seems to insure success.  Then Clarion begins to claw frantically at her face, and scream.  “It was piercing, gut-wrenching horrible…even the house lights coming on didn’t bring relief.  Behind the curtain more convulsive shrieks could be heard.”

First, Clarion is rushed to the hospital.  Then came the questions, suppositions, allegations, and, of course, the police.  

Did someone deliberately add corrosive material to the rock star’s face power?  If so, who?  Was it Denise Pearsall, Clarion’s dresser, who had applied the makeup with her own hand?  Hedley Shearman, the theater director, who disliked Clarion because she couldn’t act?  Kate in wardrobe, more interested in her love affair with Hedley Shearman than in doing her job?  Francis Melmot, Clarion’s host when she stayed at Melmot Hall?  Titus O’Driscoll, dramaturge who believed that the Royal Theater was haunted by a ghost?  Or Gisella Watling, the stand-in, who replaced Clarion to spectacular opening night reviews?   

Initially, Sgt. Horatio Dawkins, surely one of the most annoying characters in all literature (second only to Charles Dickens’ Uriah Heep) investigates the attack on Clarion Calhoun.  Then Diamond’s boss, Georgina Dalymore, puts Diamond in charge of the case and foists Dawkins on the Chief Superintendent as a probationary officer in his CID.  For this reason alone, Peter Diamond deserves the title of gentleman.  If I had been forced to work with Dawkins, I would have killed him…or killed myself!

Which brings us to subplots and Crimes.  

Subplots:  Does Georgiana Dalymore promote Sgt. Dawkins because he is a good police officer, or because they are working together in an amateur play?  Does the terror that Peter Diamond feels whenever he approaches the Royal Theater mean that something loathsome happen to him in a theater as a child, or does it have more contemporary implications?  Is the dead butterfly found in the star’s dressing room an evil omen, or merely a manifestation of nature taking its course?

Crimes:  Whose body jackknifed over a pair of battens under the fly tower of the stage?  Did a crewmember commit suicide or was the victim pushed?  Is the theater really haunted by a Gray Lady Ghost?  And which audience member, cloaked and hooded in the theater’s top box, is subsequently found dead?

Lucky for you, every clue is explained and every loose end tied up.  All you have to do is get your hot little hands on a copy of Stagestruck to find out how.  

NOTE TO PUBLISHERS:  It is time to give us an anthology of all twelve Peter Diamond books, up to and including Cop to Corpse, which is coming out in June of this year.  

Are you listening, Barnes & Noble?

Copyright © 2012, Shelly Reuben.  Originally published in The Evening Sun, Norwich, NY -  evesun.com  
Shelly Reuben has been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards.  For more about her books, visit  www.shellyreuben.com.  Link to David M. Kinchen's reviews of her novels "The Skirt Man" and "Tabula Rasa":   http://www.huntingtonnews.net/columns/060605-kinchen-review.html
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