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Wobble to Death
Sergeant Cribb Investigation #1

by Peter Lovesey

      I'm so glad that Soho Press is reissuing the Sergeant Cribb series, starting with Wobble to Death. These first came out in the 1970s when historical mystery novels were so rare (weíre talking well before Ellis Peters and Paul Doherty) that they werenít really thought of as a genre of their own. The books were wonderful reading back then and are just as special now, when they canít rely on uniqueness alone to make them stand out.

Wobble to Death is set in the Victorian world of long distance walking races or "wobbles". I canít imagine even watching such a thing, much less reading about it, and Iím a serious sports fan; but Peter Loveseyís vivid, compelling writing and storytelling make even the plodding steps of exhausted contestants as riveting to follow as the crimes and detective work.

The wobble in question, extending over six days, has been set up as a race within a race. Englandís snobbish champion, Chadwick, vies against a top competitor named Darrell on an inner track, safe from the elbows and boots of the rest of the competitors, who are of a different class in more ways than one. When Darrell is found dead on the second day, it looks like tetanus poisoning through carelessness... until the autopsy finds him filled with strychnine. Enter Sergeant Cribb and Constable Thackeray to investigate. Their characters and interactions are a large part of the fun. Theyíre about as distinct from each other as they can be, with a relationship thatís more colleague than friend, but not that simple.

One of the things I particularly liked, especially by comparison with another recent historical mystery read which had me googling things every few pages, is that the book practically oozes with atmosphere—you ARE there—but itís all done through skillful writing and a deep-seated feel for the time, not through trying to impress the reader with a lot of unfamiliar period vocabulary. The result, paired with a dusting of dry humor, an interesting array of plots and subplots, and the bookís relatively brief length, makes for amazingly easy and enjoyable reading.

Highly recommended.

The Book

Soho Constable
October 2008 (reissue, originally published in 1970)
Trade Paperback
1569475237 / 978-1569475232
Historical Mystery [London 1879]
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NOTE: Peter Lovesey has been awarded the CWA Gold, Silver and Diamond Daggers

The Reviewer

Kim Malo
Reviewed 2008
© 2008