This was my first taste of Lovesey’s police procedurals, centered around Homicide detective Peter Diamond who is based in the tourist town of Bath, England, a refreshing change from the “heroics” of London’s stuffy Scotland Yard and its counterparts. Diamond is another gruff loner cop, trying hard to learn how to compromise in love and obnoxiously proud of his blue-collar ignorance of most things cultural, including the classical music which happens to be at the heart of The Tooth Tattoo.
This murder mystery involves two young Japanese women, whose decomposing bodies are found floating in the canals of two separate European cities about four years apart. They are both Japanese and each are closely tied to a passion with classical music—the first had been a fine violinist before turning hooker, and the second was a classical quartet “groupie” and daughter of a professional violinist back in Japan. Both had been seen at a concert of the world-famous Staccati quartet before their disappearance. Lovesey’s book parallels the stories of these two victims with the travails of the Staccati Quartet, whose violist disappears shortly after the murder of the first victim, and which, years later, has just hired a new violist and is making a come-back.
As Diamond pieces together the identities and backgrounds of the two women, his hunt for the killer hones in on the members of the quartet, and for the rest of the novel we are left guessing as he moves from one to the other with his suspicions, until the final pages in which he rules out one after another until the one that remains is the only possible choice for the killer.
The novel, to my utter delight, is filled with lengthy descriptions of the quartet’s rehearsals of some of Beethoven’s more difficult pieces, including his nearly insurmountable Grosse Fugue. We get a close-up look of the joys and passion—and stress!– of functioning in a top-flight musical quartet in great demand around the world. However, the actual plot left much to be desired. It went in too many directions (“The Thin Man,” the Japanese Yakuza, the landlady’s nymphomaniac daughter, a mysterious millionaire benefactor, Russian ivory carvers, and more) without either the depth or the character development to make those directions worth following. In the opening pages, the quartet’s soon-to-be new violist gets his viola stolen by a Japanese woman working with a second thief, but that goes nowhere except to throw us off vis a vis the later plot.
So, all in all, I would call this a fairly quick light read with some lovely nuances but not one of the better procedural writers out there.