Top mysteries challenge review: The False Inspector Dew by Peter Lovesey

I started reading this book a couple of months ago and finished a couple of chapters, but for some reason I then put it aside and forgot about it for several weeks. Since it is also a TBR challenge book, having lingered on my TBR shelf for over 2 years, I have managed to kill two birds with this one stone, challengewise, and also got an enjoyable read out of it.

Year of publication: 1982
Genre: Historical mystery
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Amateur
Setting & time: London, England, and aboard the passenger ship Mauritania on the way to New York; 1921.

Dentist Walter Baranov is devastated when his actress wife decides to go to Hollywood to pursue a career in the movies. As his practice is in her name and he is penniless without her, he sees no alternative but to go with her, that is until a young woman he has met and become attracted to puts into his head the idea of killing Lydia. The plan is to do it on board the passenger ship to New York and throw the body in the sea, but things go quickly askew when another woman on board is murdered and Walter, who is travelling under the assumed name of Mr. Dew, is mistaken for the detective who arrested Dr. Crippen and asked to find the murderer.

This is the second enjoyable humorous mystery I read this week, but it is completely different from the other one in all other respects. For starters, this is a parody, and quite a good one. Lovesey’s humour is bone dry and he is very good at leading the reader astray.

The characters are interesting – even if they are somewhat exaggerated and larger than life. Walter, who at first seems so meek, blossoms once he has to pretend to be Inspector Dew, and the idealistic Alma, with all her knowledge of love straight out of romance novels, is very entertaining throughout the book. While as a romance reader myself I suppose I should find her offensive, I would like to think she was meant as a parody of a stereotypical silly romance reader, just as Walter and the ship’s detective are parodies of certain types of detectives, and the Cordells stereotypes (although more toned-down than Walter and Alma) of a certain type of nouveau riche Americans well-known from movies and books. Whatever the case may be, she keeps the reader nicely interested with her silliness until Walter comes into his own as Dew. The thing is, though, that while it is easy to recognise these stereotypes, Lovesey has still managed to make them interesting and rounded up to a point. Walter and Alma, for example, both develop and change in the course of the story, which is not something you often see stock characters do.

The thing about this story is that while it may be a parody, the mystery is still good, even if it isn’t exactly inspired. However, there are certain logical points that don’t hold up to scrutiny, but they have less to do with the actual mystery than with one important plot element, which a clever reader will have anticipated early on precisely because of these points, but for a story this entertaining in other respects this apparent weakness is almost excusable.

Rating: An excellent parody of the mystery genre that manages to be an entertaining and nice little mystery in itself. 4 stars.

Books left in challenge: 103.

Awards and nominations: The 1982 Gold Dagger.


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