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STAGESTRUCK


By Peter Lovesey

Soho, 2011 ($25.00)
ISBN-10: 156947947X
ISBN-13: 978-1-56947-947-6

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Detective Inspector Peter Diamond, head of Bath's CID, hates the theatre: not the plays, but the actual buildings. Just setting foot inside gives him panic attacks, so he is not pleased when he is called on to be in charge of a non-fatal incident at the Theatre Royal. Clarion Calhoun is an over-the-hill pop star with just enough acting ability and popularity to draw a crowd when she plays Sally Bowles in I Am a Camera. Most of the cast and crew believe she'll be a disaster, but the head of the board, Francis Melmot, insists on letting her have the role. The rehearsal goes badly, which is supposed to be a sign that opening night will go well. Things start out okay. Preston Barnes, as Christopher Isherwood, does his soliloquy perfectly. Clarion struts out in her 1930's garb, sassy and sexy, opens her mouth, stutters a few words, then begins to scream and claw at her face. She is rushed to the hospital with burns on her face, caused by tainted makeup. Denise Pearsall, who normally works as a dresser, was assigned to do Clarion's makeup, and she is the prime suspect. The woman has no motive to harm Clarion, and Peter is not as quick as his boss and the theatre owner and manager to declare this an open and shut case.

The play, as it must, goes on. A body turns up in the theatre. It may be suicide, it may be homicide, but there is no way Denise could be responsible for that death. The final curtain comes down when the theatre's resident ghost, the Grey Lady, is spotted. This grey lady, though, didn't die two hundred years ago, but is a much more recent corpse.

Throughout the case, Peter wonders and worries about his theatre phobia. He knows it started during what was supposed to be a happy family outing to celebrate his elder sister's birthday, but all she can remember is that his behavior spoiled the holiday. He rejects his lady friend's advice to get professional help. He is, after all, a top-notch detective. Along the way, he becomes certain he'd suffered some terrible trauma, and he knows he needs to uncover what his mind is hiding from him so that he can do his job properly. Does he? Yes, he does, and it's a doozy.

This is the eleventh in Lovesey's enjoyable Peter Diamond Investigation series. As always, this is a triple treat: a fine mystery with twists and turns and red herrings galore, engaging characters, and the pleasure of traveling with Peter Diamond through the streets, pubs, and cultural venues of historic and scenic Bath and the surrounding countryside.

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