Saturday, September 19, 2015

Binge Reading the Peter Diamond Books

Diamond ordered a Cornish pasty and a double helping of chips ... . “One useful tip I learned early on in my police career: never go past a food outlet or a toilet. It might be the last you see all day.” 
“I had a good breakfast,” Leaman said. 
“So did I. That was two hours ago.” -- The Stone Wife by Peter Lovesey, p. 110) 
Mystery author Peter Lovesey has written 15 books about a police detective in Bath, England, named Peter Diamond. According to my account, on July 18 I bought The Last Detective, which is Book 1 in the series, published around 1992. Last night, I finished the most recent one, Down among the Dead Men, which was published this July. I last read books by this author some years ago, when he was writing historical mysteries about a 19th century detective.

If there wasn't so much variety and inventiveness within these books I definitely wouldn't have kept on reading. As I always do, I paid attention to what the characters ate, and tried to notice how, and if, eating and food contributed to their characterization and the flow of the plot of each novel. As in many detective stories, meals often punctuate the action and serve to help show that time is passing throughout days of detecting. Peter Diamond loves pub food such as burgers, bangers and mash, meat pies with chips, a beef sandwich, a full English breakfast, and the like.

In many, but not all, of the books, the canteen at the police headquarters (called his "nick") is the source of a lot of Peter Diamond's meals, though sometimes he's ambushed by one or another colleagues whom he doesn't want to see. He has a friendly relationship with the women who work there. The food is very English:
“He ambled down to the canteen for some supper. Baked beans, bacon, fried eggs, chips and toast, with a mug of tea. 
'You’re a credit to us, Mr. Diamond,'  the manageress told him.  
'Stoking up,' he said. 'Heavy session in prospect.'" (Upon a Dark Night p. 211).
Peter Diamond's relationships with women are important in every book. His wife Steph is tragically murdered at the beginning of one book; he mourns for her throughout the rest of the books. Her cooking was a comfort against the many stresses of his job: "After viewing the corpse, Diamond went home briefly. Steph offered to cook his usual bacon and eggs, but he didn’t fancy anything except a black coffee. (Bloodhounds, Kindle Locations 4264-4265). After she dies, he often settles for "for his staple fare of baked beans on toast," or he's left with "microwaving a TV dinner" (Stagestruck, p. 147 & 144).

His boss Georgina in the later books is vain and not very talented as a police official, and he has to constantly trick her into thinking she had come up with his ideas and solutions. Avoiding the pain of having a meal with Georgina plays a big role in the final book, when she sets herself up as his partner in solving a crime wave.

His girlfriend Paloma, a successful businesswoman that he meets after his wife dies, often listens to his thoughts and helps him gain insight from what he's observed. At "an evening in with Paloma at her house on Lyncombe Hill," he enjoys "a supper of baked salmon and asparagus helped down with Prosecco. He didn’t mind discussing his work with Paloma." (The Stone Wife, p. 121).

Paloma's upscale tastes often contrast to what he orders, as do those of Georgina: "... their appetites weren’t affected. They tucked into the char-grilled rib-eye steak with black pudding butter, fries and salad (his) and vegetarian bake with salad leaves ([Paloma's])," or when he just can't avoid eating with Georgina again: "The food arrived, sausages and mash for Diamond, lemon sole for Georgina." (Down among the Dead Men, p. 54 & 83).

Lots of fun. I recommend that you read one or a few or all of these amusing books, though maybe 2 months is a rather short time period in which to do it! Yes, I insanely read all of them in the order in which they were published. (If you like historical fiction, I recommend the earlier ones, which have plot elements about Jane Austen and other famous historical figures that lived in Bath.) Yes, they take place at approximately the time they were written, with occasional references to previous cases. No, I can't remember all the plots even though I just read them all. Yes, the detective does age somewhat as the series moves forward, though after his 50th birthday he hasn't changed much. No, I didn't exactly mean to do this crazy thing. links to all of them: HERE.


Pam said...

Lovesay is new to me and I will be checking out his books. It sounds like his style of writing is just my type, with so much variety.

I love British detective series and have read all of the Inspector Thomas Lynley series by Elizabeth George as well as Peter Robinson's Inspector Alan Banks series. I also pay attention to what the characters eat and drink, the music they listen to, esp. Inspector Banks; and the relationships as they age.

Thanks for this post, I'm off to Amazon to check the series out!

Tina said...

I'm glad you reviewed this book and series. When I first read about the food, the mystery series and that it's located around Bath you had my attention. I am definitely going to check out this author.

Right now I am blowing through another British police procedural series, Peter Robinson's DCI Banks series. There are about 20 books in that series & I am loving it. I will let you know when I start Lovesay.

Joan Lowenstein said...

I'll add to my list. I have also read most of the Peter Robinson books and am obsessive about reading them in order. BTW, Aunt Agatha's downtown has lots of these and the owner is very knowledgeable.

Mae Travels said...

Joan -- Actually I read them all as Kindle books. I should check Aunt Agatha's too! My next mystery read is another that's set in Ann Arbor.