Jonathan Gash, Pearlhanger (Penguin, 1985)
[originally posted 28Jun2001]
Mysteries are like horse races. What pace you get depends more on the country of origin than the type of book. Pearlhanger, the ninth Lovejoy mystery, tries its best to be a hardboiled detective story in the Robert Parker vein (with Lovejoy an antiques dealer instead of a literate chef), but it’s foiled by Gash’s inveterate Englishness. English mysteries always start out leisurely and then pick up. Not the best way for a hardboiled detective story to start off.
Still, once you’re past the slow bits, like most English mysteries, Pearlhanger gets good. The irascible, prejudiced, inveterate sexist Lovejoy and his band of merry misfits are on the trail of a disappeared antiques dealer who doesn’t seem to be doing much antique dealing. Once they reach the end of the trail, things pick up and plot twists abound. Unfortunately, reaching the trail takes half the book and a bunch of minor characters (all of whom, you hope, will pop up again later, but they never do except in conversation). The whole thing does come to a satisfactory conclusion, and with a bit faster pacing at first and a little more completeness with minor characters, it would be excellent. As is stands, it’s readable enough. ** ½