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SKELETON HILL


By Peter Lovesey

Soho, 2009 ($24.00)
ISBN-10: 1569475989
ISBN-13: 978-1-56947-598-0

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

On a hill overlooking the ancient city of Bath, two dead soldiers, members of the Royalist Army, start chatting and decide it would be nice to slip off the battlefield and have a beer. The soldiers are part of an organization that re-enact battles from the British Civil War, which took place in the 1600's. Dave is an old hand at soldiering, but Rupert, a historian, is gathering material for an upcoming lecture.

Dave had buried 1 six-pack in a cavity under a huge uprooted tree. He is displeased that somebody had discovered his stash, but at least the culprit left two cans. While searching in the dirt, Dave finds a bone, quite possibly human. He and Rupert decide it must belong to a soldier from that long-ago battle, and cover it back up so that he might rest in peace. After the battle, however, Rupert has second thoughts. It would be a feather in his cap to lead an excavation of the body. He changes clothes, partakes of some of the after-battle revelry, then walks off into the night and disappears.

The bone shows up again in the hands of an elderly lady whose dogs found it on their daily walk. Being a good citizen, she brings it to the police to see if it's human. It is, but the pathologist determines that it is not a soldier, but a young woman dead no longer then twenty-five years -- a young lady with no head.

Inspector Peter Diamond gets the case, a very cold case, with little to go on. No missing persons reports from that time match the remains, but a single zipper from a pair of imported jeans gives him a place to start.

When another, much fresher body turns up, Diamond believes it is linked to the other case, but his boss disagrees, and sends him off to Bristol to investigate the new case. With some help from his staff, he finds a way to circumvent her orders, with painful but fruitful results.

Peter and his lady friend Paloma Kean get invited to the inner circle of the local racing scene, where he is amazed at how much she knows about the sport. Although it takes him awhile to realize it, some important links to both murders are revealed by some of the people he meets at the races.

Lovesey is a master of the police procedural, and it is a joy to watch him and his team solve the crimes without much in the way of high-tech gadgets and procedures, but with common sense and old-time detecting skills.

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