Peter Lovesey is a writer of historical and contemporary detective novels and short stories. His best known series characters are Sergeant Cribb, a Victorian-era police detective based in London, and Peter Diamond, a modern day police detective in Bath.
His books have won, and are regularly shortlisted for nearly all the prizes in the international crime writing world. He has also been Chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association.
Your Peter Diamond crime series is set in our own Georgian city of Bath, why did you choose Bath as the location for modern detective novels?
A full-time writer is in the happy position of choosing where he wants to live and I chose my favourite place and went to live in Bath. We couldn’t afford a house in the centre, so we were outside in Westwood for twenty years. Early in my career wrote a Victorian detective series and several others set in the past, but I wanted to try a modern whodunit set in a real location and use a CID man to solve the crimes rather than a private detective or an amateur.
Bath is a city of historical interest and I loved the idea of weaving bits of history into the plots, so over the series some of Bath’s most famous residents and their deeds and misdeeds have featured.
Another factor I hadn’t considered when I started was that Bath is well-known across the world, so when the books are published in other countries many of my readers abroad.have either visited or know all about it and enjoy the setting.
Are you attached to your characters? How did you feel about killing off Stephanie?
When I give talks I can usually depend on someone asking me how I could bring myself to kill off his wife Stephanie (‘How could you do that?) and there are murmurs (or shouts) of agreement. This was seven books into the series and I felt that Diamond was becoming too predictable. He needed to develop as a character or I would become weary of writing about him.
On the brink of giving up the series, I made the tough decision to give him a life-changing experience. Through Stephanie’s murder we learned new things about him. He has progressed from there through another twelve books. The latest, called The Finisher, appears in July, but it won’t be the finish of Diamond, I hope, because I’m currently at work on the twentieth in his long career.
However,I still get letters about Steph and even my wife Jax has never really forgiven me. But you’ll be relieved to hear that she hasn’t been killed off as well.
Am I attached to my characters? I enjoy returning to some of the CID team. They’re a long-suffering lot. I’ve said before that if Diamond knocked on my door one day, I’d think twice about inviting him in.
Why do you think the ‘old fashioned’ detective is still popular today?
The ‘whodunit is satisfying to write because the solving of a crime imposes a structure on a book that ensures it will have a logical progression. It’s also satisfying to read because everything will be explained by the end. Order breaks down at the beginning and is restored at the end. I must admit that having one detective questioning every suspect himself is unrealistic, but no more unrealistic than having it solved by a private eye or an amateur. Fortunately most readers are willing to suspend disbelief.
It’s a form of story that has existed for over a century, has evolved and become more creative in character and setting. I believe it still has more to offer.
Who or what are the biggest influences in your writing?
I read the Sherlock Holmes stories as a child and they certainly influenced my decision fifty years ago to begin with books set in the nineteenth century. Later, when I read more crime novels, such as Malice Aforethought (Francis Iles) and Strangers on a Train (Patricia Highsmith), I saw the possibilities of inverted plots told from the killer’s point of view and several of my one-off books, like The False Inspector Dew and The Reaper have explored this theme.
For humour, I’m addicted to Donald E. Westlake, the American author, and his John Dortmunder series. Dortmunder is a professional thief. Now that I’ve answered your question, I see that I’m more attracted to criminals than policemen.
If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
I’ve often thought Timothy Spall would be a marvellous Peter Diamond, catching the grosser aspects of his character yet keeping the sympathy of the audience. My early series about Sergeant Cribb got onto TV with Alan Dobie playing the lead role and he was so good that I couldn’t write about Cribb any more. All I could see in my mind’s eye when I tried to get back to the character I’d first imagined was Alan.
Thank you for your continued support of Bath and North East Somerset Libraries. Why do you think public libraries are important?
I once wrote an article with the title LIBRARIES: MY LIFE SUPPORT and that sums it up. From the time when I first began to read after my home was destroyed by a V1 bomb in 1944, I was forced to rely on my local library for books, and I have been a regular borrower and user of the reference facilities ever since. The library system hands us a free ticket to expand our minds in limitless ways.