Bob Naylor works for Parcel Force as a driver but has always had a bit of a thing about words - he loves to make up little bits of doggerel and is quite clever at it. Encouraged by his daughter (he's a widower) he goes along to the local writer's circle, just to see what it's like. He's not at all convinced it's the place for him, expecting quite a degree of snobbery. Much to his surprise he enjoys himself and is wondering if he will go again when a murder occurs. One Edgar Blacker, a publisher who has given a talk at one of the meetings, is burned to death in a house fire. Arson is suspected and the chairman of the writer's circle, Maurice, is arrested. Edgar had been going to publish his book but at the last moment had demanded £5,000 from him for 'costs'. A huge falling out had ensued and the police think this is reason enough to arrest Maurice.
Bob decides this is nothing to do with him but finds himself on the receiving end of several requests from members of the circle to help clear Maurice's name, because they're certain he's innocent. But is he? He has previous form for a dispute with a neighbour, where he set fire to the neighbour's fence and accidently killed his dog. But as Bob becomes more and more embroiled in events he finds that more than one person in the writing circle might have had cause to want to Edgar dead. And then the murderer tries to kill Bob and the police turn their attentions more seriously to the writing circle. It becomes a matter of honour to Bob to try to solve this mystery before someone else is killed, but can he?
A couple of reviewers on Amazon reckon that this is not one of Lovesey's better efforts but as it's only my third book by him, I can't really say whether I agree with that or not. All I can say is that I enjoyed it very much indeed. I liked the setting of the writer's circle and all the characters struck me as very true to type. For instance there's a grammar and cliché pedant who continually points out everyone's speech or writing errors - I came across someone like this on a weekend writer's course I did a few years back, so that really made me laugh. And there was the ubiquitous 'fantasy' fan who's writing an epic, the widow of an archdeacon who's a bit on the prissy side, and the romance writer who has eleven novels at home, none of which she'd sold to a publisher. It was amusing, but also, in a way, rather sad in that I suspect Peter Lovesey knows what he's talking about and writer's circles are a bit like this.
The mystery element I found to be pretty good. I thought I was certain who'd done it and that turned out to be nonsense - of course. And I rather enjoyed the way the two investigations, that of Bob the poet, and the police one, were knitted together. The two policewomen in charge of the case were interesting and there was even a back story there where one of the police team is passing on information and it's not known who. All in all, this is quite a good crime yarn that kept me absorbed and interested right to the end.