Angie's Reviews > Stagestruck

Stagestruck by Peter Lovesey
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Jun 12, 2011

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In this eleventh mystery in the Peter Diamond series, Detective Superintendent Diamond looks into some highly suspicious incidents at the Bath Theatre Royal. First, aging pop star Clarion Calhoun, who is trying to reinvent her sagging career by becoming an actress , suffers disfiguring burns on opening night from tainted stage make-up. The next night her make-up artist dies of an apparent suicide apparently motivated by guilt over her carelessness or malevolence. Diamond suspects that there may be more to these incidents than the obvious interpretation, and he probes further, despite obstacles caused by his boss's desire that the case be closed so that her theatre group's next production will have access to the theatre, Diamond's own fear of entering theatre buildings, and the usual rivalries & dissension among the theatre personnel & within Diamond's own team. Another death occurs before Diamond finds the answers to both the crime & his personal phobia.
I have enjoyed a number of previous Lovesey mysteries. This award-winning writer epitomizes some of the things I like best about British writing: witty, literate writing and engaging, colorful characters. Stagestruck lived up to my hopes and expectations in this regard. Although I would not describe it as a humorous novel, I laughed out loud more than once at the repartee in Lovesey's wonderful dialogue. I was equally taken by some of the supporting characters, such as the gay dramaturge Titus O'Donnell, whose mild flirtation with Diamond gives the police superintendent the opportunity for early access to the crime scene, and the amusingly infuriating dancer cum police sergeant Horatio (aka Fred) Dawkins, who never speaks plainly when circumlocution is possible.
An otherwise fine novel was marred by some weak plot points. There is a distracting and irrelevant subplot in which Diamond seeks to discover why he has a strange phobia about being in theatres. He ultimately realizes the source and cures his phobia, but the explanation is so improbable that one wonders if Lovesey intended this to be humorous, in which case it was a pretty poor joke, especially given the genuine distress it caused both Diamond and others. The second weak area, unfortunately, involved the primary denouement of the book. (I hate to include a SPOILER, but I feel I must. ) BEWARE: SPOILER It is unlikely to me that Dawkins should just happen to be able to find a dead person of the right age and background with the same initials as his own and be able to assume his identity. It then strains my credulity beyond the breaking point that the background investigation for a police recruit would not have found SOMETHING that uncovered the impersonation, such as a fingerprint check or interviews with previous employers or friends, e.g., "Sure, Horatio worked for me as a teen-ager, but didn't he die a few years ago?" This is a relatively young man; the real Dawkins' background is not so shrouded in history that there would not be numerous memories & photographic as well as written records.
These weaknesses marred but did not destroy my enjoyment of Stagestruck; the writing overcame the plot weaknesses. It's a good summer read.

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