Bath, England's head homicide detective, Peter Diamond, isn't known for his interest in anything other than work, a pint and a pie. His girlfriend, Paloma, has to pull out all the stops to get him to take a weekend tourist trip to Vienna, tempting him by reminding him that it's the setting for his favorite film, The Third Man. A somber note is introduced when they come across the scene of an impromptu memorial to a young, Japanese woman found dead in the Danube canal; an apparent suicide.
Back home in Bath, Diamond's team is called in to investigate when another young Asian woman is found dead in a local canal. One of the very few clues to her identity is a "tooth tattoo" of a musical quaver, or eighth note, on her incisor. This musical connection brings the investigation to interview the members of the Staccati String Quartet, who are in residence in Bath.
The quartet's story is a parallel plot thread. The members are irascible first violin Ivan; earth mother and queen of the double entendre, cellist Kat; music-obsessed autistic, second violin Anthony; and new violist, Mel Farran. Mel is new because his predecessor, Harry, disappeared several years earlier in Budapest, when the group was on a central European tour, and is presumed dead.
Strange events in Mel's past, a mysterious new patron, and what looks to be a stalker put a dark cloud over Mel's joy at becoming a member of the prestigious quartet and collaborating with them at a higher musical level than he's ever known. The two plot threads--the quartet's story and Diamond's investigation--intertwine, as Diamond delves into the quartet's history to try to find out if there might be a connection between the two women's deaths, and maybe even Harry's disappearance. This history is complex and presents many avenues for exploration; there are even some subtle allusions to The Third Man in Diamond's quest for answers.
Unfortunately, the complexity of the plot unravels suddenly and leads to a fairly disappointing resolution. I can't say more without spoilers.
I've been a fan of Peter Lovesey's work since his first mystery, Wobble to Death, way back in 1970. The Peter Diamond series blends the best of old-fashioned fair-play mystery with the modern police procedural. I appreciate that Lovesey hasn't fallen into the ultra-violent and serial killer plots that have become so prevalent. He sticks to more realistic murders, which are explained by human emotions and circumstances, which I find far more satisfying---even if, in this particular case, I was underwhelmed by the conclusion.
I wouldn't recommend this as one of Lovesey's better efforts, but it won't prevent me from continuing to read Lovesey books as soon as they come out and recommending him to anyone who enjoys fair-play mysteries and low-violence police procedurals.