Peter Lovesey is crime fiction royalty. The author of nearly forty novels – featuring Sergeant Cribb, Peter Diamond and Hen Mallin, among others – he’s been nominated for nearly every award worth having, and in 2000 won the prestigious Cartier Diamond Dagger for his lifetime achievements.
His latest Supt Peter Diamond novel is called Down Among The Dead Men and features the consequences of what happens when a car thief makes off with a stolen BMW. When the police pull him over, a nightmare discovery in the boot earns him a life sentence for murder.
Years later, Diamond finds himself investigating that old case, and his formidable colleague Hen Mallin, and dealing with with spirited schoolgirls and eccentric artists. But more people are going missing…
We’re all kinds of thrilled about this intel – Lovesey is an engaging and generous interviewee. He discusses the evolution of Peter Diamond since his first – and last – appearance 25 years ago and the series’s debt to Ed McBain – and he reveals the one question fans always ask that always makes him uncomfortable….
Tell us about Supt. Peter Diamond…
When he first appears he is asleep on a trolley outside the post mortem room while an autopsy is going on inside. This helps to establish him as a stubborn yet sensitive man who does his own thing regardless of what is expected. His ample shape suggests a dinosaur luring in a primeval swamp. I wanted to suggest he was one of the old school of detectives, an anachronism in modern policing. He’s overweight and dresses in a raincoat and trilby as if he’s stepped out of one of the black and white movies he loves. I’d know him if I met him, but if he knocked on my door I’d think twice about inviting him in.
Diamond made his first appearance in 1991’s The Last Detective – how has he changed down the years?
As the title implied, that first book was intended to be a one-off. By the end of it Peter Diamond had quit the police. End of, I thought. Unexpectedly it won the Anthony award for best novel (I wasn’t in Toronto and didn’t find out till later, which meant I didn’t even have to make an acceptance speech). Diamond was already middle-aged. When asked if I would write another story with this character I revised my writing plans and did one called Diamond Solitaire, with him getting involved in crime as a civilian. By then I saw he had potential for a series, so The Summons was my way of getting him back into the police. He has now been a detective superintendent at Bath for another twenty-five years. How has he changed? Not at all. Peter Diamond is a portly, middle-aged Peter Pan. He has the gift of eternal middle age.
Down Among The Dead Men features Diamond investigating the disappearance of an art teacher – what was the inspiration for the novel?
They say you should write about what you know. I went to university to study fine art. I would have applied for English, but in those days they insisted everyone studied Latin and I was so abysmal at it that I didn’t even take the exam. The art was my back door route to an English degree. I wrote some essays the English professor saw and after a couple of terms he invited me to switch – with nothing said about Latin. Later I did some teaching in technical colleges. I was wary of writing fiction about art and teaching in case an old colleague recognised herself, but I’ve finally bitten the bullet.
You’ve said your supporting cast of detectives is a nod to Ed McBain – do you have any favourites among Diamond’s colleagues?
Yes, Ed and I shared the same agent and became good friends. Under the name of Evan Hunter he’d written The Blackboard Jungle, so we had teaching in common as well. He was the father of the police procedural novel and his writing doesn’t date, even fifty-eight years on from Cop Hater. I learned a lot from him about handling a team of detectives rather than just the sleuth and his sidekick. Among my characters I liked Julie Hargreaves, but she couldn’t stand Diamond and asked for a transfer.
The main female interest now is Ingeborg Smith, formerly a freelance journalist. I’m hoping she will tough it out with the old curmudgeon. Among the men, there’s John Wigfull, an enemy of Diamond’s who does PR for the police. And I enjoy writing scenes for Leaman, the inspector who does everything by the book and is the eternal fall guy.
DCI Henrietta ‘Hen’ Mallin – who spun off into two of her own books – makes another appearance in Diamond’s life. Do you have any plans to return her to the limelight in another novel?
I like Hen and enjoy making sparks when she works with Diamond. Nothing is planned and she doesn’t have a spot in Another One Goes Tonight, the next book. People sometimes ask if I have another book inside me. I tell them I don’t. It ‘s uncomfortable.
How did you start writing?
Like everybody else, at school. I won a prize at 15 for writing a history of my town . The first book I wrote was about long distance running and the first novel was also about running and called Wobble To Death. It was used to launch the Macmillan crime list in 1970. Being set in Victorian times, it was different and got me started on a series of eight books that eventually appeared on Granada TV as Cribb, starring Alan Dobie as the detective.
What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?
Never get too excited about the promise of getting onto the big screen. Wobble To Death was optioned by Carl Foreman (of High Noon fame) and The False Inspector Dew by Peter Falk (Columbo). I was lunched by the great men and started counting the days (‘It won’t be long, Peter’) but ultimately neither project went into production.
Who are the authors you admire, and why?
It’s unfair to mention living writers. I still enjoy Ed McBain because he was such an innovator and a stylist. And Donald E. Westlake, whose Dortmunder books are the funniest crime series ever. Who else? Patricia Highsmith, who didn’t invent the inverted crime plot, but made it into high art. And Arthur Conan Doyle, who is undervalued as a comic writer.
Give me some advice about writing…
Always have the next book written (or well under way) before the previous one is published.
What’s next for you?
Another One Goes Tonight is the seventeenth in the Diamond series and appears in July. Number eighteen is under way. I can’t say well under way, but hell, there’s plenty of writing to be done between now and then. This is where I stop answering your questions and get back to work.
Down Among the Dead Men by Peter Lovesey is published by Sphere, price £8.99 in paperback.
You can find out more about Peter at his website www.peterlovesey.com