Skeleton Hill by Peter Lovesey

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Skeleton Hill by Peter Lovesey

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The tenth Peter Diamond police procedural has a clever plot and good characterisation. It's not quite in the top rank, but not far off. Recomended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: September 2009
Publisher: Sphere
ISBN: 978-1847443335

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When the Sealed Knot re-enacts a Civil War battle on Lansdown Hill near Bath a couple of corpses sneak off for a crafty drink – one of them thoughtfully buried a six-pack in the shade of a fallen tree where he thought it would stay cool, but after unearthing two cans he can find no more. Further exploration produces a human bone which they agree to rebury – convinced that it's a relic of the battle. One of the corpses goes missing – his car left at the nearby racecourse – and it turns out that the bone is nowhere near as old as they think, but the head of Bath CID still has difficulty in establishing who is buried in that lonely spot.

The live 'corpse' was a university lecturer: how and why can he disappear so completely? Who is the vagrant who seems determined to disrupt various events, intent on stealing food for which he obviously cannot pay? Just what do the members of the Lansdown Society – a group of upper-class vigilantes – know about what has been going on at Lansdown Hill?

This is Peter Lovesey's tenth Peter Diamond novel and after I turned the last page I couldn't help but regret that they're not better known. They don't quite have the complexity of Reginald Hill's Dalziel and Pascoe novels but that's not quite so much a criticism as an indication that he's a contender. There's a wide range of subjects covered from vigilantes through to the difficulties of making a legal living when you arrive in this country in a less than orthodox manner.

It's a puzzling case too. How do you identify a corpse (a dead one and not one which can get up and walk away) when there are no identifying features and no link to anyone who has been listed as missing? How do you pinpoint the date of death when it could be any time within decades? And is there really any connection with the disappearance of the university lecturer other than that one was buried there and the other last seen leaving the area?

There's a splendid set of characters, from the golf-playing vigilantes and the horse-racing vet to the immigrant community which makes its living as best – or worst – it can. The story revolves around Diamond but he doesn't dominate and the plot is clever enough that I really hadn't worked out whodunit. Well, I had – but I was completely wrong.

There is a continuing background story in the Peter Diamond books but they can all be read as stand-alone novels and the order in which you read them is not particularly important. It's some years since I last read one, but that was no disadvantage and I'm looking forward to reading the next in the series.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If police procedurals appeal to you and you've exhausted Ian Rankin and are looking for something a little more unusual you might like to try Playing With Bones by Kate Ellis or Cut Short by Leigh Russell. We can also recommend Vigilante by Shelley Harris.

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