Murderous holdup men end the bidding at a staid auction house and turn the proceedings over to Chief Superintendent Peter Diamond of the Bath CID.
Lot 129, an enormous limestone carving of Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, has languished in obscurity for hundreds of years. Its 15 minutes of fame arrive when three masked gunmen interrupt Morton’s auctioneer Denis Duggart and shoot a bidder who tries to stop them from wheeling it away. Fueled by his wealthy wife Monica’s purse, professor John Gildersleeve (medieval English literature/Reading Univ.) had already bid well past Morton’s estimate of the price the carving would bring. Now his death raises many questions. Was his murder premeditated? Who hired the holdup men, and why were they so interested in the stone wife? And, since this is the U.K. and not the gun-happy U.S., who supplied them with arms? Assuming that the answer to that last question is notorious Bristol gun supplier Nathan Hazael, Diamond asks for a volunteer to go undercover and infiltrate Hazael’s inner circle. Recently promoted DS Ingeborg Smith, rising to the occasion, comes up with such a novel scheme—posing as a journalist looking to publicize the career of rising pop star Lee Li, who’s taken on Hazael as manager and bedmate—that she runs away with the book. As Diamond and his crew (Cop to Corpse, 2012, etc.) beat the bushes for suspects (dry-eyed Monica? Bernie Wefers, the violent ex-husband she cheated on with Gildersleeve? Dr. Archie Poke, the Reading colleague Gildersleeve barred from further advancement?), Ingeborg, acting on one hunch after another, gets herself deeper and deeper into trouble. But not as much trouble as DC Paul Gilbert, the rookie who takes it upon himself to investigate her sudden disappearance.
Dogged police work, nasty revelations about respectable citizens, dollops of suspense, Chaucerian tidbits—all the pleasures you expect from much-honored Lovesey are here, but this time without a strong center to pull them all together. The result is Diamond in the rough.