DS Peter Diamond’s 17th outing may be the coldest cold case he’s ever seen.
When a wrecking crew demolishes a block of 18th-century flats to make room for a new supermarket in the unfashionable Bath neighborhood of Twerton, they make a grisly find: a corpse seated in an armchair in an attic loft. It’s a real challenge for Diamond (Another One Goes Tonight, 2016, etc.) to have the remains safely removed from their half-demolished habitat without reducing them to 206 separate bones, and the situation is complicated still further by the discovery that the skeleton’s attire is as old as the buildings. Its coal-black wig and white tricorn hat were the trademarks of Richard Nash, the dandy and womanizer widely known as Beau Nash, the first citizen of Bath in his heyday (1674-1761). But what are his remains doing here, far from the site of his recorded death? And is it really Beau or a victim far more recently deceased? Diamond, both daunted and exhilarated by “what promised to be the most sensational murder case of his career,” is at first overwhelmed by the historical minutiae he’s required to master. Even after his lover, period costume expert Paloma Kean, and Estella Rockingham, Beau’s latest biographer, bring him up to speed, his inquiries are obstructed rather than assisted by the long-windedness of pompous forensic pathologist Dr. Claude Waghorn, the unwelcome news that a cocaine-addicted stager of fireworks has been shot to death in the middle of a display honoring Jane Austen and Beau, and Assistant Chief Constable Georgina Dallymore’s insistence that Diamond attend a meeting of the Beau Nash Society in full period regalia.
Through it all, Lovesey moves from one dexterously nested puzzle to the next with all the confidence of a magician who knows the audience won’t see through his deceptions no matter how slowly he unveils them. Next up, presumably: the Avon and Somerset CID investigate the extinction of the dinosaurs.