The Last Detective by Peter LoveseyThe Last Detective by Peter Lovesey

The Last Detective

byPeter LoveseyIntroduction byLouise Penny

Paperback | August 19, 2014

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"I am so excited for you to be at the very beginning of this trend-setting, beautifully written, vivid series."—from the introduction by LOUISE PENNY

In the first entry to the series and winner of the 1992 Anthony Boucher Award for Best Mystery Novel, Diamond must locate two missing letters attributed to Jane Austen to solve the murder of the "Lady in the Lake."

A woman’s body has been found floating in the weeds in a lake near Bath. There are no marks on her and no murder weapon. No one will identify her. It looks like Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond has his work cut out for him. Diamond is one of the last detectives of his kind, a gumshoe whose heroes solved crimes by question and answer, door stepping and deduction. To unravel this one, Diamond must locate two missing letters attributed to Jane Austen and defy his superiors in order to save a woman unjustly accused of murder.
Peter Lovesey is the author of more than thirty highly praised mystery novels. He has been awarded the CWA Gold and Silver Daggers, the Cartier Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement, the Strand Magazine Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Macavity, Barry, and Anthony Awards, and many other honors. He lives in West Sussex, England.
Title:The Last DetectiveFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:416 pages, 7.5 × 5 × 1.1 inShipping dimensions:7.5 × 5 × 1.1 inPublished:August 19, 2014Publisher:Soho PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1616955309

ISBN - 13:9781616955304


Read from the Book

ONE A MAN STOOD THIGH-DEEP IN WATER, motionless,absorbed, unaware of what was drifting towards him. He wasfishing on the north shore of Chew Valley Lake, a 1200-acrereservoir at the foot of the Mendip Hills south of Bristol. Hehad already taken three brown trout of respectable weight.He watched keenly for a telltale swirl in the calm lakewhere he had cast. The conditions were promising. It was anevening late in September, the sky was overcast and the fliesin their millions had just whirled above him in their spectacularsunset flight, soaring and swooping over the lake in amass darker and more dense than the clouds, their droningas resonant as a train in the underground. The day’s hatch,irresistible to hungry fish.A light south-westerly fretted the surface around him, yetahead there was this bar of water, known to fishermen as thescum, that showed a different pattern in the fading light.There, he knew by experience, the fish preferred to rise.So preoccupied was the man that he failed altogether tonotice a pale object at closer proximity. It drifted languidlyin the current created by the wind, more than half submerged,with a slight rocking motion that fitfully produceda semblance of life.Finally it touched him. A white hand slid against histhigh. A complete arm angled outwards as the body lodgedagainst him, trapped at the armpit. It was a dead woman,face-up and naked.The fisherman glanced down. From high in his throatcame a childishly shrill, indrawn cry.For a moment he stood as if petrified. Then he made aneffort to gather himself mentally so as to disentangle himselffrom the undesired embrace. Unwilling to touch thecorpse with his hands, he used the handle of the rod as alever, lodging the end in the armpit and pushing the bodyaway from him, turning it at the same time, then steppingaside to let it move on its way with the current. That accomplished,he grabbed his net from its anchorage in the mudand, without even stopping to reel in his line, splashed hisway to the bank. There, he looked about him. No one wasin sight.This angler was not public-spirited. His response to thediscovery was to bundle his tackle together and move off tohis car as fast as possible.He did have one judicious thought. Before leaving, heopened the bag containing his catch and threw the threetrout back into the water.TWO A LITTLE AFTER 10.30 THE same Saturday evening,Police Constable Harry Sedgemoor and his wife Shirleywere watching a horror video in their terraced cottage inBishop Sutton, on the eastern side of the lake. PC Sedgemoorhad come off duty at six. His long body was stretchedalong the length of the sofa, his bare feet projecting overone end. On this hot night he had changed into a blacksinglet and shorts. A can of Malthouse Bitter was in his lefthand, while his right was stroking Shirley’s head, idly teasingout the black curls and feeling them spring back intoshape. Shirley, after her shower dressed only in her whitecotton nightie, reclined on the floor, propped against thesofa. She had her eyes closed. She had lost interest in thefilm, but she didn’t object to Harry watching if it resultedafterwards in his snuggling up close to her in bed, as heusually did after watching a horror film. Secretly, she suspectedhe was more scared by them than she, but you didn’tsuggest that sort of thing to your husband, particularly if hehappened to be a policeman. So she waited patiently forit to end. The tape hadn’t much longer to run. Harry hadseveral times pressed the fast-forward button to get throughboring bits of conversation.The violins on the video soundtrack were working up toa piercing crescendo when the Sedgemoors both heard theclick of their own front gate. Shirley said bitterly, ‘I don’tbelieve it! What time is it?’Her husband sighed, swung his legs off the sofa, got upand looked out of the window. ‘Some woman.’ He couldn’tsee much in the porch light.He recognized the caller when he opened the door:Miss Trenchard-Smith, who lived alone in one of the olderhouses at the far end of the village. An upright seventy-yearoldnever seen without her Tyrolean hat, which over theyears had faded in colour from a severe brown to a shadethat was starting to fit in with the deep pink of the localstone.‘I hesitate to disturb you so late, Officer,’ she said as hereyes travelled over his shorts and singlet in a series of rapidjerks. ‘However, I think you will agree that what I have foundis sufficiently serious to justify this intrusion.’ Her gratinglygenteel accent articulated the words with self-importance.She may have lived in the village since the war, but shewould never pass as local and probably didn’t care to.PC Sedgemoor said with indulgence, ‘What might thatbe, Miss Trenchard-Smith?’‘A dead body.’‘A body?’ He fingered the tip of his chin and tried toappear unperturbed, but his pulses throbbed. After sixmonths in the force he had yet to be called to a corpse.Miss Trenchard-Smith continued with her explanation.‘I was walking my cats by the lake. People don’t believe thatcats like to be taken for walks, but mine do. Every eveningabout this time. They insist on it. They won’t let me sleep ifI haven’t taken them out.’‘A human body, you mean?’‘Well, of course. A woman. Not a stitch of clothing onher, poor creature.’‘You’d better show me. Is it . . . is she nearby?’‘In the lake, if she hasn’t floated away already.’Sedgemoor refrained from pointing out that the bodywould remain in the lake even if it had floated away. Heneeded Miss Trenchard-Smith’s co-operation. He invitedher into the cottage for a moment while he ran upstairs tocollect a sweater and his personal radio.Shirley, meanwhile, had stood up and wished a good eveningto Miss Trenchard-Smith, whose tone in replying madeit plain that in her view no respectable woman ought to beseen in her nightwear outside the bedroom.‘What a horrid experience for you!’ Shirley remarked,meaning what had happened beside the lake. ‘Would youcare for a nip of something to calm you down?’Miss Trenchard-Smith curtly thanked her and declined.‘But you can look after my cats while I’m gone,’ she said asif bestowing a favour on Shirley. ‘You don’t mind cats, doyou?’ Without pausing to get an answer she went to the doorand called, ‘Come on, come on, come on,’ and two Siameseraced from the shadows straight into the cottage and leapton to the warm spot Harry had vacated on the sofa as if itwere prearranged.When Harry came down again, Shirley glanced at whathe was wearing and said, ‘I thought you were going upstairsto put some trousers on.’He said, ‘I might have to wade in and fetch somethingout, mightn’t I?’She shuddered.He picked his torch off the shelf by the door. Managingto sound quite well in control, he said, “Bye, love.’ Hekissed Shirley lightly and tried to provide more reassuranceby whispering, ‘I expect she imagined it.’Not that tough old bird, Shirley thought. If she says shefound a corpse, it’s there.Harry Sedgemoor was less certain. While driving MissTrenchard-Smith the half-mile or so down to the lakesidehe seriously speculated that she might be doing this outof a desire to enliven her placid routine with gratuitousexcitement. Old women living alone had been known towaste police time with tall stories. If this were the case hewould be incensed. He was damned sure Shirley wouldn’twant to make love after this. Whatever there might ormight not be in the lake, the mention of a corpse wouldcolour her imagination so vividly that nothing he did orsaid would relax her.With an effort to be the policeman, he asked MissTrenchard-Smith to tell him where to stop the car.‘Anywhere you like,’ she said with an ominously nonchalantair. ‘I haven’t the faintest idea where we are.’He halted where the road came to an end. They got outand started across a patch of turf, his torch probing thespace ahead. The reservoir was enclosed by a low boundaryfence, beyond which clumps of reeds stirred in the breeze,appearing to flicker in the torchlight. At intervals were flatstretches of shoreline.‘How exactly did you get down to the water?’ he asked.‘Through one of the gates.’‘Those are for fishermen only.’‘I don’t disturb them.’ She gave a laugh. ‘I won’t tell anyoneyou broke the law.’He pushed open a gate and they picked their way downto the water’s edge.‘Was this the place?’She said, ‘It all looks amazingly different now.’Containing his annoyance, he drew the torch-beamslowly across a wide angle. ‘You must have some idea. Howdid you notice the body?’‘There was still some daylight then.’Fifty yards along the bank was a place where the reedsgrew extra tall. ‘Anywhere like that?’‘I suppose there’s no harm in looking,’ she said.‘That’s why we’re here, miss.’He stepped in and felt his foot sink into soft mud. ‘You’dbetter stay where you are,’ he told Miss Trenchard-Smith.He worked his way through to the far side. Nothing wasthere except a family of ducks that put up a noisy protest.He returned.She said, ‘Just look at the state of your gym shoes!’‘We’re looking for a body, miss,’ PC Sedgemoor remindedher. ‘We’ve got to do the job properly.’‘If you’re going to wade through every clump of reeds,we’ll be out all night,’ she said blithely.Twenty minutes’ searching resulted only in MissTrenchard-Smith becoming more flippant and PC Sedgemoorless patient. They moved steadily along the shoreline.He shone the torch on his watch, thinking bitterly of Shirleyalone in the cottage with those unlikeable cats while hedanced attendance on this scatty old maid. Almost 11.30.What a Saturday night! In an impatient gesture he swungthe beam rapidly across the whole width of the water as ifto demonstrate the futility of the task. And perversely thatwas the moment when Miss Trenchard-Smith said, ‘There!’‘Where?’‘Give me the torch,’ she said.He handed it to her and watched as she held it at arm’slength. The beam picked out something white in the water.PC Sedgemoor took a short, quick breath. ‘What do youknow?’ he said in a whisper. ‘You were right.’The body had lodged among the reeds not more thanten feet from where they stood, in a place where waterweed,bright viridian in the torchlight, grew densely. Unquestionablya woman, face upwards, her long hair splayed in thewater, a strand of it across her throat. The pale flesh wasflecked with seedpods. No wounds were apparent. Sedgemoorwas reminded of a painting he had once seen on aschool trip to London: a woman lying dead among reeds, evidentlydrowned. It had impressed him because the teacherhad said that the model had been forced to lie for hoursin a bath in the artist’s studio and one day the artist hadforgotten to fill the lamps that were provided to keep thewater warm. As a result the girl had contracted an illness thatdidn’t immediately kill her, but certainly shortened her life.The story had been given to the class as an example ofobsessive fidelity to the subject. Sedgemoor had stood infront of the painting until the teacher had called his namesharply from the next room, for it had been the only paintingof a dead person he had seen, and death is fascinating tochildren. Now, faced with an actual drowned corpse, he wasmade acutely aware how idealized the Pre-Raphaelite imagehad been. It wasn’t merely that the girl in the painting hadbeen clothed. Her hands and face had lain elegantly on thesurface of the water. The face of the real drowned womanwas submerged, drawn under by the weight of the head.The belly was uppermost, and it was swollen. The skin onthe breasts had a puckered appearance. The hands hungtoo low to be visible at all.‘There’s a wind blowing up,’ said Miss Trenchard-Smith.‘Yes,’ he responded in a preoccupied way.‘If you don’t do something about it, she’ll drift away again.’The duty inspector at ‘F’ Division in Yeovil picked out thesignificant word from PC Sedgemoor’s call. ‘Naked’ meanta full alert. You can generally rule out accident or suicideif you discover a naked corpse in a lake. ‘And you say youhandled it? Was that necessary? All right, lad. Stay whereyou are. I mean that literally. Stand on the spot. Don’t tramplethe ground. Don’t touch the corpse again. Don’t smoke,comb your hair, scratch your balls, anything.’Sedgemoor was compelled to ignore the instruction. Hehadn’t cared to admit that he was calling in from the car,where he had stupidly left his personal radio. He set off at atrot, back to the lakeside.Miss Trenchard-Smith stood by the body in the darkness,sublimely unconcerned. ‘I switched off the torch to saveyour battery.’He told her that assistance was on the way and he wouldsee that she was taken home shortly.‘I hope not,’ she said. ‘I’d like to help.’‘Decent of you to offer, miss,’ said Sedgemoor. ‘Withrespect, the CID won’t need any help.’‘You were glad of it, young man.’‘Yes.’She was unstoppable. Women of her mettle had climbedthe Matterhorn in long skirts and chained themselves torailings. ‘They’ll want to identify her,’ she said with relish.‘I’m no Sherlock Holmes, but I can tell them severalthings already. She was married, proud of her looks and hershoes pinched. And it appears to me as if she had red hair.It looked dark brown when you first brought her out, but Iwould say on closer examination that it was a rather fetchingshade of chestnut red, wouldn’t you?’ She switched onthe torch and bent over the face admiringly as if it had noneof the disfigurement caused by prolonged submersion. ‘Nowonder she let it grow.’‘Don’t touch!’ Sedgemoor cautioned her.But she already had a lock of hair between finger andthumb. ‘Just feel how fine it is. Don’t be squeamish.’‘It isn’t that—it’s procedure. You don’t handle anything.’She looked up, smiling. ‘Come now, you just dragged herout of the water. Touching her hair won’t make a jot of difference.’‘I’ve had orders,’ he said stiffly. ‘And I must request youto co-operate.’‘As you wish.’ She straightened up and used the torchto justify her deductions. ‘The mark of a wedding ring onthe left hand. Traces of nail polish on the toes as well as thefingernails. Cramped toes and redness on the backs of theheels. Neither a farmgirl nor a feminist, my dear Watson.Where are they? They ought to be here by now.’It was with distinct relief that Sedgemoor spotted acrossthe landscape the flashing light of a police vehicle. Heswung the torch in a wide arc above his head.In a few bewildering minutes their sense of isolation wassupplanted by activity on a scale the young constable hadonly ever seen in a training film. A panda car, two large vansand a minibus drove over the turf and halted and at least adozen men got out. The area was cordoned off with whitetapes and illuminated with arc-lamps. Two senior detectivesapproached the body and spent some time beside it.Then the scenes-of-crime officers moved in. The forensicteam arrived. A photographer took pictures and a screenwas erected. Miss Trenchard-Smith was led to the minibusand questioned about the finding of the body. The detectivestook more interest in her green Wellingtons than herdeductions about the victim. The boots were borrowed,photographed and used to make casts. Then she was drivenback to PC Sedgemoor’s house.Sedgemoor was not detained much longer. He made hisstatement, surrendered his muddy trainers to the forensicexaminers, waited for them to be returned and then left thescene and drove home. Miss Trenchard-Smith and her catswere still there when he arrived a few minutes after midnight.She was still there at 1.30 a.m., drinking cocoa andreminiscing about her days in the ambulance service duringthe war. As she graphically expressed it, sudden deathwas meat and drink to her. This was not the case with HarrySedgemoor. He refused Shirley’s offer of cocoa and wentupstairs to look for indigestion tablets. He had to be on dutyat eight next morning.

Editorial Reviews

Crime Writers' Association Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement Recipient Mystery Writers of America 2018 GrandmasterPraise for The Last Detective“The first volume in Lovesey’s beloved Peter Diamond series has a handsome new 20th-anniversary edition.”—Entertainment Weekly"A bravura performance . . . slyly paced, marbled with surprise and in the end, strangely affecting."—The New York Times Book Review"Thickly textured, amusing, unpredictably mixing puzzle and procedural . . . One of the best."—Los Angeles Times"A treasure."—Chicago Sun-Times"Not only a good story but a compelling one."—Boston Globe"Top-form Lovesey."—Kirkus Reviews"Witty . . . One surprise after another."—Publishers WeeklyPraise for The Peter Diamond series“I’m jealous of everyone discovering Lovesey and Diamond for the first time—you have a wonderful backlist to catch up on. Me, all I can do is wait for the next book.”—Sara Paretsky“What'll it be today? A knotty puzzle mystery? A fast-paced police procedural? Something more high-toned, with a bit of wit? With the British author Peter Lovesey, there's no need to make those agonizing decisions, because his books have it all.”—The New York Times Book Review“Mr. Lovesey's narrative is swift, but he takes time out for local color and abundant humor, the latter springing from the book's quirky characters . . . Lovesey is a wizard at mixing character-driven comedy with realistic-to-grim suspense. And in a writing career spanning four decades, he has created a stylish and varied body of work.”—The Wall Street Journal“Next to Jane Austen, Peter Lovesey is the writer the tourist board of Bath, England, extols most proudly . . . The enduring draw of the Peter Diamond books derives both from the beguiling Bath cityscape and the brusque character of Diamond himself.”—NPR