The skeleton in the attic

Cover of Beau Death
A review of Beau Death by Peter Lovesey

Peter Diamond may wince at being called the ‘veteran superintendent’ of the Bath, England police force, but it will prove impossible to escape historical comparisons with the city’s newest crime scene. Or maybe it’s the oldest crime scene? The recent demolition of eighteenth century row houses reveals a literal skeleton in the attic of one of the condemned buildings—and this one happens to be unmistakably dressed as Beau Nash, one of Bath’s most famous denizens, in authentic 1760s-era clothing. A bit of research reveals that the Beau—the famed master of ceremonies that singlehandedly turned the city into the social hub of Georgian England—died a pauper in an unmarked grave. Did he end up underground or, as Diamond begins to fear, was he the victim in Bath’s coldest of cases? 

Helping Diamond in this possible Beau Death is his mostly-trusty team of investigators, who aren’t sure whether to treat this skeleton as a museum piece or an active crime scene. But as Diamond and company soon learn, Beau Nash, dead as he might be, still holds considerable sway over Bath. Investigations lead to the swanky Beau Nash Society, where members swan around in period costume and observe the rules as imposed by their own Nash figure—a developer who happened to be nosing around the crime site.  With no idea who his victim is or even how long he’s been dead, Diamond and his crew have to rely on the entirety of their resources, shoe leather police work and just plain old hunches. When another murder occurs at a spectacle that would do the Beau proud, Diamond begins to suspect that the new crime and the old might be connected.  But how? 

Beau Death is Lovesey’s seventeenth book in the Peter Diamond series. Lovesey still has his main character primarily reliant on his own hunches and not entirely keen on following orders from superiors, but compared to the earlier books, the detective seems to have mellowed a bit. There are touches of humor, as when Diamond spars with a pompous forensic anthropologist, or the fate of a pair of briefs. It’s obvious that Lovesey has strong ties to Bath and its surrounding area, as its history and current state is as much a player in the mystery as its human inhabitants are. There is a lengthy backstory alluded to in Beau Death, but readers new to the series can jump in without spoilers. Those who would like to start at the beginning should look for the first Diamond book, The Last Detective.