PETER LOVESEY – The Circle. Inspector Henrietta “Hen” Mallin #1. Soho Crime, hardcover, June 2005; trade paperback, June 2006. First published in the UK by Little Brown & Co., hardcover, 2005.

   There’s a lot to like in this one. The “circle” in the title refers to a group of would-be writers who meet monthly to read and critique each other’s books, a premise for a mystery novel that I think all of us can identify with, even if only from the outside. Lovesey makes some very deft jabs at each of the members’ dreams and aspirations, even with the obvious realization that he’s set them up as very easy targets.

   A newcomer to the group, a parcel truck driver named Bob Naylor and a sometime poet (of doggerel, he says), joins too late to be present when a vanity publisher stops in to talk to the members of the group, but when he’s later found murdered, perhaps by one of those who work he praised too highly (and falsely), it is Bob as an outsider, who leads the ad hoc and totally amateur investigation that follows, needed to clear everyone’s name.

   The police are also involved, but Inspector Hen Mallin does not show up until about halfway through, introduced very briefly (less than one page) by Lovesey’s other major detective figure, Peter Diamond. It is possible that Mallin made an appearance in one of Lovesey’s earlier novels, but this is the first time she has (most of) a book to herself. She’s a non-nonsense cigar-smoking kind of woman, and it’s enjoyable to see her put down some of her male colleagues who are often either in awe of her or more simply jealous of her success.

   Through the first two-thirds of the book there is something to smile about, or even laugh out loud, on nearly every page. The humor quotient goes down drastically after that point, however. as the detective story gains more and more precedence. And as such, and this is another key to the first sentence of this review, what Lovesey accomplishes in this book is the best Agatha Christie ending to a non-Agatha Christie novel that I’ve read in a long time, bar none.


Bibliographic Note:   The only other solo outing for Inspector Mallin so far is The Headhunters (2008). I plan to give it a try as soon as I can.