Monday, December 27, 2010

Book Review: Diamond Solitaire [1992]

I've mentioned before that I sometimes pick up books for random reasons; in the case of Diamond Solitaire by Peter Lovesey, it had to do with an article mentioning that the detective featured in the series, Peter Diamond, was related somehow to Bath, England. Having spent a semester in Bath, I put in an order for one of the books (which turned out to be the second in the series, and was not actually set in Bath) and listened to the audio version.

Former police detective Peter Diamond is fired from his job as a security guard when a small Japanese girl is found hiding in his section of Harrod's after closing. Now unemployed (again) and intrigued by the girl (called Naomi), who remains unclaimed and is seemingly autistic, Diamond becomes obsessed with finding her family. At the same time, a drug plant in Italy is destroyed by arson and a young man becomes CEO of an American pharmaceutical company, Manflex, after his father commits suicide. The links between these seemingly unrelated events will lead Diamond from England to New York and ultimately all the way to Japan after Naomi is kidnapped from her school (meeting sumo wrestlers, helpful bystanders, librarians, cold-blooded mafia killers, and foreign police on the way).

Grade: B

The interactions between the gruff, short-tempered Diamond and the little Japanese girl, who spends most of the book mute and unresponsive, are very moving. His sincere desire to get through to Naomi, and to help her find her family, is the best part of the book. In addition, the nifty thing about reading a mystery novel written the early nineties is that a lot of time is spent faxing things and using pay phones and, really, doing a million little things that modern technology would have simplified or made completely unnecessary. I very much liked all of the outdated apparatus and the slow, painful searching out of clues: going to the basement to look at the original card files that had been transferred to the computer system; calling all of the London cab companies and television studios and waiting for them to call back; and taking the Concorde across the ocean. Nothing is easy for Peter Diamond as he brings the mystery to a close. A solid detective novel with a deeply flawed but likeable main character.

Random Thoughts:

Lovesey begins the book with a balance between Diamond's plot and the Manflex plot, but then moves exclusively to Diamond's point of view for at least the second half, which was a bit jarring. I would have liked either to have two full viewpoints or to discover the human angles of the Manflex connection slowly through Diamond's investigations. Other plot points, such as the introduction of the world-famous sumo wrestler who becomes Diamond's unofficial patron, definitely stretch believability, but are entertaining nonetheless.

The narrator, Simon Prebble, did a great job with Diamond's voice and with the Japanese characters, but his "American" is a bit rusty. It was bad enough that I had trouble staying involved in the story because I was distracted by his failed attempts to create a believable accent. 

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