When I reviewed the new Peter Lovesey novel, Stagestruck, recently, I mentioned that it is a very good example of how an accomplished detective story writer who wants to "play fair" with the reader plants clues in an artful manner.
As a seasoned reader of detective fiction, I felt rather pleased with myself when I spotted a throwaway line describing the background of one of the characters. I figured that this pointed the way to identifying the culprit's motive, and I could not resist the temptation to construct my own explanation of events, as well as identifying a suitably unlikely suspect.
But I have to confess that Peter Lovesey outwitted me. I had spotted the right clue, and the motive, but I had missed an earlier clue that led to an entirely different outcome – one I’d thought about for a nanosecond, but dismissed. That earlier clue, if spotted, gives the game away – a bold and confident move by a writer on top form. It reminded me of a very clever early Reginald Hill book, where the key clue crops up in the very first sentence – bravura clueing, to be sure.
Agatha Christie is rightly regarded as the best in the business at clueing, but a number of modern writers take it seriously. I’ve always been rather proud of a clue planted in my first book, All the Lonely People, and another in Eve of Destruction, as well as some of those that crop up in the Lake District Mysteries. It’s really a game with the reader – not the crux of the novel, to be sure, but I find it great fun, and so, I think, does Peter Lovesey.