Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The False Inspector Dew: Review

The False Inspector Dew (1982) is a stand-alone historical mystery by Peter Lovesey, known as well for his historical mystery series starring Sergeant Cribb and Bertie the Prince of Wales, a modern series with Peter Diamond, several other stand-alones, and short stories. My first introduction to Lovesey's writing was his Victorian series with Sergeant Cribb. These are delightful historical novels with fine plotting and a good deal of fun and humor. I had heard of the Inspector Dew novel for years--it is a Golden Dagger award winner and has been featured on various "Best of" lists. Julian Symons has described it as “one of the cleverest crime comedies of the past few years" in his book Bloody Murder. And it is quite clever and entertaining, indeed.

The book takes place primarily in the early 1920s--with a bit of background filled in with scenes from the sinking of the Lusitania. Alma Webster, a romantically-inclined woman of 28--full of romantic sensation novel plots and no real experience with the opposite sex, falls madly in love with her dentist. The dentist, Walter Baranov, is married to a demanding, self-centered actress and comes to appreciate the unswerving devotion of Miss Webster. There is just one obstacle to their grand passion--Lydia Baranov. When Lydia announces her plans to give up the stage in England for an imagined career in the growing American film industry...and that those plans involve Walter leaving up his dentist practice (which she paid for) and joining her in America, Walter and Alma hatch a plot to remove the obstacle. 

Lydia sets about selling the dental practice and their home, packing up their belongings, and booking passage on the Mauretania, but Walter tells her he refuses to go. He then books his own passage under a false name--choosing by a quirk of humor to sail under the name Walter Dew, the name of a retired famous Scotland Yard Inspector. Alma, who fortunately resembles his wife, will sneak aboard and stand ready to take Lydia's place once Walter kills her and stuffs her through a convenient port hole. Things seem to have gone smoothly--Lydia is gone, Alma slips into her shoes, and Walter prepares to spend the voyage in the obscurity of second class. But then their plans fall apart...a woman's body is spotted in the water, a couple of card-sharpers get involved, "Inspector Dew" is called upon to help the captain and his crew get to the bottom of things, and someone takes a potshot at the "detective" as he does his best to live up to his namesake's reputation. Lovesey provides plenty of twists and turns as it seems that few people on board the Cunard vessel are really who they seem to be. It will be a clever armchair detective, indeed, who anticipates the final twist.

This is a terrific, near-perfect mystery in the traditional mode--it has everything: murder, ship-board romance, small-time crooks, mistaken identity (several), and a closed set of suspects. Lovesey expertly sets the reader up for certain scenarios and then, with a quick flick of the wrist changes things up in the most logical manner. He also seems to be having a great deal of fun playing with all the standard tropes of both detective and romantic fiction--from the passion of the romance-obsessed Alma to the Inspector who isn't really an inspector to the doting mother who's bound and determined to marry off her daughter. ★★★★ and a half stars for near-perfection.

This fulfills the "Man in the Title" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo Card.

All challenges fulfilled: Vintage Mystery Challenge, 100 Plus Challenge, How Many Books, Mount TBR Challenge, Password Challenge, A-Z Reading Challenge, Cloak & Dagger, Men in Uniform, 52 Books in 52 Weeks, My Kind of Mystery, Reading Thru Time


Jacquie said...

Thanks for another great review. I have this paperback and am pulling it out today. But I'm curious. What's keeps you from giving this 5 stars and why do you say "near-perfection"? Or is your reason something that would give the plot away?

Bev Hankins said...

Jacqueline: It does have a bit to do with the plot. Just a teensy little bit of disappointment with a certain point. Also, it didn't have that certain something that all my five-star books do. I can't describe it--but when I read one, there isn't any question...I immediately know it's a five-star winner. If I'm pondering the star count when I put it down--for any reason--then I'll usually shave off a half.

Anonymous said...

Remember absolutely loving this one - but then Lovesey seems to me to be almost the last really great practitioner of the Golden Age mystery.

Anonymous said...

Love your review, Bev - it's a wonderful book and one of my favorites.

One piece of background that your readers might enjoy knowing: part of the fun of the book comes from the fact that the original Inspector Dew - the real Inspector Walter Dew - was the man who solved the infamous Dr. Crippen murder case. Crippen was married to a domineering actress - and fell in love with his typist. He murdered his wife and got on a ship to sail to America. Inspector Dew was able to take a faster ship, get to America first, and arrest Crippen before the latter's ship docked in Quebec. You can see all the wonderful parallels...

Bev Hankins said...

Yes, Les--thanks for adding that. I couldn't go into much detail because I was using this title as a clue in my Super Book Password Challenge. If anybody pays attention to the comments, they might get a hint that will help them collect points. ;-) Guess we'll see how closely my readers check the comment sections on my posts.