Monday, 18 April 2016

Lovesey on Diamond

The other day I realised twenty-five years have passed since Peter Diamond butted into my writing career. The funny thing is he isn’t a day older. The man is a middle-aged Peter Pan. Ask him his age and he’ll tell you anything. In The Last Detective, he was forty-one. In Diamond Solitaire, which takes place the following year, forty-eight – or so he tells Harrods, his new employers. If so, he’ll be all of seventy-two by now. Mind, there are precedents in crime fiction.  Hercule Poirot was about a hundred and twenty-five when he embarked on his last case.

Let’s get to some facts we can rely on. Diamond needed no padding to play Santa Claus after he quit the police towards the end of the first book in the series. Overweight, with high blood pressure, he describes himself as burly and believes he could still last out a game of rugby, as he regularly did for the Metropolitan Police. You wouldn’t want to tackle him. What else? He has lost most of his hair. Unlike the rest of his team he wears a suit to work, but he’s no fashion plate. Outside, he favours the trilby and raincoat typical of old-style detectives in the black and white films he adores.

I just said he resigned from the police. You see, he was never intended to be a series sleuth. The first book was The Last Detective and I wrote it as a one-off. The title is also a nod to his methods. He is out of sympathy with modern policing.  Forensic science is put on the back burner as he gets to the truth with shrewd investigative work. There is always a puzzle to be solved. But he has no time for donnish fictional detectives who quote Shakespeare, write poetry or listen to Wagner. He can’t do crosswords. The best he can manage is the occasional jigsaw puzzle and then he loses pieces.

Towards the end of The Last Detective he used his rugby skills to hand-off a troublesome boy who ended up in hospital with concussion. A reprimand followed and Diamond stormed out of the Assistant Chief Constable’s office and got a job as a Sainsbury’s trolley-man. That’s no way to launch a detective series.

My problem was that my delinquent detective had a better reception than I expected. People liked this abrasive man and the sensitive side that was occasionally glimpsed. I was phoned from Toronto and told that The Last Detective had won the Anthony for best novel at the Bouchercon world mystery convention. If  I’d believed it was possible I would have been there. The book was getting reviews to die for. Even the sometimes acidic Julian Symons called it brilliant and wrote a long piece in the Times Literary Supplement.

Will you do another Diamond?’ I was asked. Heck, he’s an ex-detective, I thought, cocked up, played out, burnt his bridges, thrown in the towel, joined the great unwashed.

Dredging deep, I thought up a plot in which he got involved in uncovering a crime as a private person as well as striving to understand a small autistic girl called Naomi. Called it Diamond Solitaire. But it was obvious he had to become a policeman again and I dredged deeper still and dreamed up a scenario where the police needed him back. He’s collected in a patrol car and driven from London (where he has ended up) to Bath. A criminal he put behind bars has escaped from jail and kidnapped the Assistant Chief Constable’s daughter and will only talk to Diamond. They’re desperate to have their reject back. The Summons. won the CWA Silver Dagger and the next one, Bloodhounds, also won a Silver Dagger. Diamond had refused to go away.

I spoke of his sensitive side. The love of his life was Stephanie. With one failed marriage behind her Steph needed to be persuaded Diamond was worth the risk. She was devoting most of her energy to the Brownie movement when the old curmudgeon wooed her – and the entire summer camp – by arriving unexpectedly with two donkeys. Steph rejoiced in his capacity to surprise her. She tolerated his cussedness, his clumsy ways, his lack of any handyman skills, and they were married.

Why the past tense? If you have read Diamond Dust, you’ll know. I rarely give a talk without somebody asking, ‘How could you do that?’ My answer is that this was book seven of the series I’d never intended and Diamond was becoming too predictable. The only way I could visualise more books was by giving him a life-changing shock. Tough call, but creatively it worked and book sixteen, Down Among the Dead Men, is now in paperback and Another One Goes Tonight appears in hardback in July.

If you’d like to know more, all is revealed at

Down Among the Dead Men by Peter Lovesey
21st April 2016, Sphere, £8.99 paperback.
Read SHOTS' review here

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