As someone who normally reads standalone literary fiction, I sometimes find it challenging to approach genre fiction, namely because it’s hard to know exactly where to start. I’ve found myself picking up a fantasy novel at the library, reading a chapter or two in utter confusion, only to then realize I’m in book two of a trilogy. Mystery novels don’t occupy quite the same space either, though it can be challenging to take on a new writer without greater context in mind. This is especially true if said writer features the same protagonist in novel after novel.
I read Peter Lovesey’s The Finisher without really realizing it was the latest in a series featuring Peter Diamond, a police detective in Bath, England. In hindsight, knowing the Peter Diamond series might have been helpful in identifying familiar tropes and narrative techniques, but my inexperience does lend me specific credentials in judging this novel as both a whodunit and as a piece of literature. There’s no baggage here; and, I didn’t have the temptation to hold Peter Diamond to the standards of serial detectives, like Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot. Or even Diamond himself in other iterations.
The Finisher is distinct in my mind due to its integration of technology, its multiple perspectives, and its banter between characters. We’re introduced first not to Diamond but, rather, to a murderous man named The Finisher for a couple of pages. Enough to unsettle. Diamond himself arrives next, shown to be a laid-back figure eager to shirk work. He’s assigned to police the Other Half, a half-marathon in Bath for non-professional runners. Shortly after, we meet one of these runners, Maeve Kelly, and get to know her well. Maeve, a schoolteacher, runs as both an apology and to prove that she can. We follow Maeve for such a long period of time that it’s odd when she drops from the narrative in favor of numerous other characters, creating a very tangled web. Peter Diamond comes to life in the aftermath of the race, noticing an ex-felon among the runners. Eager to avenge one of the felon’s previous victims, he launches a loose-cannon investigation that has more of a point than his coworkers realize. As a mystery itself, it’s quite compelling and demands to be read in a single, long sitting. Where it falters, though, is in some of its literary elements.
Lovesey’s characters sometimes serve as plot elements rather than full-fledged people. One character, simply known as Jones, provides a vaguely deus ex machina role in the overall story. Narratives are picked up and set aside at whim and, at times, information is withheld a little too long to be seen as believable. Some plot threads feel unresolved, especially given the amount of time we’re given with the characters in question. Perhaps the greatest detractor here, however, is dialogue. Much of the novel is spent in banter, all pleasingly British and perhaps compelling to Lovesey’s longtime fans. As a new reader, I found it distracting. We’re held in meandering conversations for pages on end, and it’s plain to see when certain exchanges could exist better as summary than scene. For instance, in this conversation regarding drones:
“You just said they were unmanned.”
“The pilots control the drones from the ground.”
“Five policemen doing nothing but play with drones? How can Wiltshire justify that when my team and I are on marathon duty?”
“We all like to think we’re special, ma’am.”
“Special constables. Local enthusiasts recruited for their skills. All volunteers.”
“Something for nothing, then?”
“I wouldn’t put it so crudely. They get expenses.”
“Cheap at the price.”
While it’s interesting to see modern technology embedded into a classic mystery, the dialogue stymies the movement of the story as a whole. I wonder if this shows my bias as a new reader, as longtime fans may recognize Lovesey’s narrative quirks and may know some of the officers and other characters from previous books.
Despite the flaws in The Finisher, I came away impressed by the storytelling, the relative pace of the plot, and of the frequent twists and turns that made this a compelling read. It’s apparent that Lovesey is experienced and highly proficient at crafting a mystery, and on the basis of this craftsmanship I commend him. While not a perfect novel, it’s an enjoyable one. I would’ve preferred more attention to characterization, particularly to Peter Diamond himself. While his passion for crime-solving is palpable, we know little else about him as a person except for his cat and love of rugby. Perhaps I’ll have to read more novels to find out.
August 04, 2020