Saturday, July 25, 2009

Abracadaver by Peter Lovesey

Peter Lovesey's Abracadaver was part of his eight book Sergeant Cribb series published in the seventies. The series led to a BBC movie and series. It's been twenty-nine years since I read these books, but when Soho Press re-released them in paperback, I was eager to rediscover these stories.

Sergeant Cribb and Constable Thackeray of Scotland Yard investigate crimes in venues typical of Victorian London. Abracadaver takes them into the music halls, entertainment for the masses, and in a more risqué form, for the rich and powerful. In a short period of four weeks, accidents have occurred to performers at some of the music halls - two trapeze artists had ropes cut, an illusionist accidentally stabbed his assistant. In every case, the performers were made to look ridiculous, and would never be able to appear on stage without humiliation. After Cribb receives a note predicting an accident, he and Thackeray are on hand to witness a weight-lifter's accident. Thackeray thinks they've solved a minor crime, but Cribb isn't surprised when the accidents escalate to murder.

Lovesey doesn't tell the stories popular today, with fast-paced thrillers and a great deal of action. His skill lies in his storytelling, as he brings Victorian London to life, with its class differences, even within Scotland Yard. And, the relationship between Cribb and Thackeray, and their investigations, are humorous. Lovesey sets poor Thackeray up to be a fall guy when he introduces him, taking classes, hoping to advance to the department, classes Thackeray has been taking, and failing, for four years. Time after time, Thackeray is forced to take on ridiculous roles in their investigations because he's in a lower position than Cribb. But, don't worry. In Lovesey's books, Cribb might solve the crimes, but his superiors never let him forget his own position, in the department, and in society.

If you read Lovesey's Sergeant Cribb books, you'll be reading for the humor, the characters, and the eye on Victorian life. Abracadaver takes Cribb, and the reader, into the world of music halls. It's a world that Thackeray, Cribb, and the reader, will not forget.

Peter Lovesey's website is

Abracadaver by Peter Lovesey. Soho Press, reprinted 2009. ISBN 9781569475614 (paperback), 233p.


Molly said...

Another terrific review (I have missed reading your blog these past 6 weeks, but am anxious to return to that daily routine!)

I was not reading mysteries when these books were first published, so I will definitely have to check them out at this time. I love descriptive books of Victorian England.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Clever title....may have to read it just based on that! And your excellent review, of course.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Lesa said...

Good to have you back, Molly! You have a lot to catch up on. I hesitated to say it was 29 years ago that I read these books, but what the heck. It was my first job after grad school, and one of the other librarians was hooked on the BBC series, and told me about the books.

Lesa said...

Thanks, Elizabeth!

I appreciated the humor in this book much more the second time around.

Clea Simon said...

Thanks for the review, Lesa! I read a Lovesey because there was one in the Malice package ("Wobble to Death") and just loved it. Was rather appalled to see so many of the same book on the giveaway table, and blame the old-fashioned (but lovely) black and white cover. Now I'm definitely going to buy this one!

Lesa said...

I like the cover, but, like you, I don't think readers will gravitate toward it. I loved the Sgt. Cribb books.