Diamond Meets the Eye
Peter Lovesey on the inspiration for Diamond and the Eye.
Some of my happiest reading has been in the private eye genre, hard-boiled American eyes like Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, Lew Archer, Matt Scudder, Parker and Kinsey Millhone. And I should add Albert Samson, whose author calls him soft-boiled but a good egg. But most of my own crime writing has been about police investigations because I found it impossible to imagine a British private eye, with gun blazing, tackling killers and mobsters in our judicial system.
The Peter Diamond series is about a police detective firmly embedded in the Avon & Somerset force. For thirty years he has tackled a disturbing amount of murder and serious crime in the city of Bath. He’s a maverick with a police team to rein him in and forensics on call. His clear-up rate is unsurpassed. I try to make him realistic and believable, but, in the real world, chief investigating officers don’t join in the most dramatic moments, the knocking on doors, the chases and the arrests. That’s a difficulty every writer using policemen as characters has to resolve. I’ve long envied the private eye writers who can have their characters break in, break out, get into fights, pull guns and cause mayhem wherever they go. But is that credible in Britain?
When I asked myself the question for the umpteenth time, I wasn’t expecting it to be answered. Then Johnny Getz (‘gets results’) popped into my head and Diamond and the Eye was asking to be written. The crime solving would be a competition between Diamond and Johnny, who is fuelled by his admiration for the private eyes of fiction. So the book is rich in references to Hammett, Chandler and those who followed. Who comes out the winner? That would be telling, but here’s the opening:
‘Mind if I join you?’
Peter Diamond’s toes curled.
There’s no escape when you’re wedged into your favourite armchair in the corner of the lounge bar at the Francis observing the last rites of an exhausting week keeping a cap on crime. Tankard in hand, your third pint an inch from your mouth, you want to be left alone.
The stranger’s voice was throaty, the accent faux American from a grainy black-and-white film a lifetime ago. This Bogart impersonator was plainly as English as a cricket bat. His face wasn’t Bogart’s and he wasn’t talking through tobacco smoke, but he held a cocktail stick between two fingers as if it was a cigarette. Some years the wrong side of forty, he was dressed in a pale grey suit and floral shirt open at the neck to display a miniature magnifying glass on a leather cord.
‘Depends,’ Diamond said.
‘Should I know you?’
‘No reason you should, bud.’
No one called Diamond ‘bud’. He’d have said so, but the soundtrack had already moved on.
‘I got your number. You’re the top gumshoe in this one-horse town and you’re here in the bar Friday nights when you’re not tied up on a case. What’s your poison? I’ll get you another.’
‘Don’t bother.’ Diamond wasn’t getting suckered into getting lumbered with a bar-room bore who called him bud and claimed to have got his number.
‘You’ll need something strong when you hear what I have to say.’ The bore pulled up a chair and the voice became even more husky. ‘Good to meet you, any road. I’m Johnny Getz, the private eye.’
‘Say that again, the last part.’
Against all the evidence that this was a send-up, Diamond had to hear more. ‘Private eye? I thought they went out with Dick Tracy.’
‘Dick Tracy was a cop.’
‘Sam Spade, then. We’re talking private detectives, are we? I didn’t know we had one in Bath.’
‘What do you mean – “one”? I could name at least six others. The difference is they’re corporate. I’m the real deal. I work alone.’
‘Over the hairdresser’s in Kingsmead Square.’ An address that lacked something compared to a seedy San Francisco side-street, which was probably why the self-styled private eye added, ‘The Shear Amazing Sleuth. Like it?’
Diamond and the Eye is published on July 8 by Sphere. Find out more about Peter here.
Peter’s website is www.peterlovesey.com.