More than fifty years ago, Peter Lovesey published a short story in an anthology. That short story caught the eye of the great Ruth Rendell, whose praise ignited Lovesey’s lifelong passion for short form crime fiction.
On the occasion of his hundredth short story, Peter Lovesey has assembled this devilishly clever collection, eighteen yarns of mystery, melancholy, and mischief, inhabiting such deadly settings as a theater, a monastery, and the book publishing industry.
The collection includes the career-launching story, as well as three never-before-published works. And surprising the author himself, the irascible Bath detective, Peter Diamond, "bulldozed his way" into this volume.
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|Publisher:||Soho Press, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.52(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.02(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Reader, I Buried Them
Yes, I was the gravedigger, but my main job was overseeing the wildflower meadow. I’d better correct that. My main reason for being there was to worship the Lord and most of my hours were spent in prayer and study. However, we monks all had tasks that contributed to the running of the place and I was fortunate enough to have been chosen long ago to be the meadow man. If that sounds a soft number, I must tell you it isn’t. Wildflower meadows need as much care as any garden, and this was a famous meadow, being situated at the back of a Georgian crescent in the centre of London. The monastery had once been three private houses. The gardens had been combined to make the two acres people came from far and wide to admire. My meadow had been photographed, filmed and celebrated in magazines. Often they wanted to include me in their reports and I had to be cautious of self-aggrandisement. I had no desire for celebrity. It would have been counter to the vows I took when I joined the brotherhood.
Closest to the monastery I grew rows of vegetables, but nobody except Brother Barry, the cook, was interested in them. My spectacular meadow stretched away beyond, dissected by a winding, mown-grass path. In the month of May we were treated to a medieval jousting tournament, the spring breezes sending the flagged wild irises towards the spikes of purple-helmeted monkshood, cheered on by lilies of the valley and banks of primroses. Summer was the season of carnival, poppies in profusion, tufted vetch, ox-eye daisies, field scabious and foxgloves along the borders. Even as we approached September, the white campion, teasel, borage and wild carrot were still dancing for me. At the far end was the shed where my tools were kept and where, occasionally, I allowed myself a break from meadow management and did some contemplation instead. To the left of the shed was the apiary. If you have a wildflower meadow you really ought to keep bees as well. And to the right were the graves where I buried our brothers who had crossed the River Jordan. When their time had come I dug the graves and after our Father Superior had led us in prayer I filled them in and marked each one with a simple wooden cross. You couldn’t wish for a more peaceful place to be interred.
And that was my way of glorifying God. The others all had their own tasks. Barry, I have mentioned, was our cook, and had only learned the skill after taking his vows. A straight-speaking man, easy to take offence (and therefore easy to tease), he had done some time in prison before seeing the light. Between ourselves, the meals he served were unadventurous, to put it mildly, heavily based on stew, sardines, baked beans and boiled potatoes, with curry once a week. Although my stomach complained, I got on better with Barry than any of the others.
A far more scholarly and serious man, Brother Arnold, was known as the procurer, ordering all our provisions by phone or the internet, including my seed and tools. Being computer literate, he also communicated with the outside world when it became necessary.
Brother Luke was the physician, having been in practice as a doctor before he took holy orders. A socialist by conviction, he combined this responsibility with humbly washing the dishes and sweeping the floors.
Then there was Brother Vincent, a commercial artist in the secular life, who was painstakingly restoring a fourteenth-century psalter much damaged by the years. Between sessions with the quills and brushes, he also looked after the library.
Our Father Superior was Ambrose, a remote, dignified man in his seventies who had been a senior civil servant before he received the call.
You may be wondering why I’m using the past tense. I still live the spiritual life and manage a garden, but it is no longer at our beloved monastery in London. One morning after matins, Father Ambrose asked us all to remain in our pews (for your information, the chapel had been created out of two living rooms by knocking down a wall and installing an RSJ. Not everyone knew this was a rolled steel joist and we had fun telling Barry we were expecting a Religious Sister of St. Joseph). “I want to speak to you about our situation,” our Father Superior said. “It must be obvious to you all that our numbers have been declining in recent years. Three brothers were called to higher service last year and two the year before. I won’t say our little cemetery is becoming crowded, but the dead almost outnumber the living now. None of us are in the first flush of youth anymore. Tasks that were manageable ten years ago are becoming harder now. I watched Jeffrey cropping the meadow at the end of last summer and it looked extremely demanding work.”
As my name had been singled out, I felt I had a right to reply. “Father, I’m not complaining,” I said, “but if I had a ride-on mower instead of the strimmer, it would ease the burden considerably.”
“Jeffrey,” he said, “I am discussing much more than your situation. I might just as well have used Barry and his catering as an example.”
“What’s wrong with my cooking?” Barry asked.
“The curry,” Luke muttered. “Oh, for an Indian takeaway.”
“Did you say something?” Father Ambrose asked.
“Trying to think what could be done, Father,” Luke said.
Ambrose moved on with his announcement. “In short, the Lord in His infinite wisdom has put the thought into my head that we should move to somewhere more in keeping with our numbers. This beautiful building and grounds can be used for another purpose.”
He couldn’t have shocked us more if he had ripped off his habit and revealed he was wearing pink spandex knickers.
“What purpose might that be?” Luke asked eventually.
“I know of a school in Notting Hill in unsuitable accommodation, much smaller than this, and in a poor state of repair.”
“A convent school.”
“You’re suggesting they move here?”
“It’s not my suggestion, Luke. As I was at pains to explain, it came to me from a Higher Source.”
“Our monastery converted into a school? How is that possible?”
“It’s eminently possible. This chapel would double as the assembly hall. The spare dormitories would become classrooms, the refectory the canteen, and so on.”
“What about my meadow?” I asked.
Ambrose spread his hands as if it was obvious. “The playing field.”
I was too shocked to speak. I had this mental picture of a pack of shrieking schoolgirls with hockey sticks.
“And my studio would become the art room, I suppose?” Vincent said with an impatient sigh.
“I see that you share the vision already,” Ambrose said. “Isn’t it wonderfully in keeping with our vows of sacrifice and self-denial?”
“Where would we go?”
“I’m sure the Lord will provide.”
“Do we have any say?” Barry asked.
“Say whatever you wish, but say it to Our Father in Heaven.”
This is one of the difficulties with the monastic life. There isn’t a lot of consultation at shop-floor level. Decisions tend to be announced and they have the authority of One who can’t be defied.
We filed out of the pew dazed and shaken. If this was, indeed, the Lord’s will, we would have to come to terms with it.
I returned to my beautiful meadow and tried to think about self-denial. Difficult. I vented my frustration on a patch of brambles that had begun invading the wild strawberries. After an hour of heavy work, I remembered I had recently put in an order for seed for next year’s vegetable crop. If Father Ambrose’s proposal became a reality, there wouldn’t be any need for vegetables. So I went to see Arnold, the procurer. He has a large storage room with racks to the ceiling for all our provisions. There’s a special section for all my gardening needs and beekeeping equipment.
I said what was on my mind.
“Good thinking,” he said, looking up from his computer screen. Eye contact with Arnold was always disconcerting because he had one blue eye and one brown. “I’ll see if it isn’t too late to cancel the order.”
“Did you know what Father Ambrose was going to say this morning?”
“Not at all,” he said. “Has it upset you?”
I knew better than to admit to personal discontent. “I don’t like to think about our departed brothers lying under a hockey pitch.”
He shook his head. “Those are only mortal remains. Their souls have already gone to a Better Place.”
He was right. I wished I hadn’t spoken. “Are you in favour of this?”
“It’s ordained,” he said. As the second most senior monk, he probably felt compelled to show support.
I heard the slap of sandals on the floorboards behind me. We had been joined by Vincent, the scribe. He was a more worldly character than Arnold, always ready with a quip. “What’s this—a union meeting?” he asked. “Are we going on strike, or what?”
“Brother Jeffrey is here to cancel his order for next year’s seeds,” Arnold said. “We have to look to the future.”
“A future without a meadow? That’s going to leave Jeffrey without a garden shed for his afternoon nap.”
“We don’t know where we’ll be,” I said, ignoring the slur about my contemplation sessions. “Wherever it is, I expect we’ll have a garden.”
“No problem for me,” Vincent said. “All I need is a small room, a desk and a chair. And my art materials, of course. Do we have some more orpiment in stock?”
“Plenty,” Arnold said.
“What’s orpiment?” I asked.
“A gorgeous yellow,” Vincent said. “The old scribes used it and so do I, but modern artists prefer gamboge.”
“If it’s so gorgeous, why isn’t it used more?”
“Because it’s the devil—if you’ll pardon the expression—to grind the natural rock into a pigment. In fact, the variety I use is man-made, but based on the same constituents. I’ll take some with me, Arnold. Chin up, Jeffrey. I’m sure there’ll be a little patch of ground for you at the new place. If we leave London altogether, you could find yourself with acres more to grow things on.”