The theatre offers horrors both personal and professional for Bath’s top detective Peter Diamond in the latest book from Chichester writer Peter Lovesey.
Clarion Calhoun is a fading pop star wanting to launch an acting career.
The audiences at her debut at Bath’s Theatre Royal are expecting a dramatic evening, but what they get is beyond their wildest imagination when Clarion is rushed to hospital with third-degree burns.
In the best theatrical tradition, the show goes on, but the agony turns to murder in a particularly-tough challenge for Diamond - one which brings him face to face with his own phobias.
Stagestruck is published by Sphere (ISBN: 978-1-84744-444-8).
“I always like to have something about Diamond as a personality in the book,” Peter explains. “I had this idea of a phobia where he found it difficult to go into a theatre, which I touched on once before two or three books ago when Diamond went to the theatre with (his ladyfriend) Paloma. He had been very uncomfortable there.”
It’s certainly not his natural milieu: “He is very much a bloke that is rooted in reality. I don’t think he has a very profound imagination. The whole theatre idea would not appeal to him particularly, and now in this book it becomes a definite phobia, which makes it much more of a challenge to him. He must really face his own demons.”
For Peter, the writer, another challenge was reproducing Bath’s Theatre Royal as accurately as possible, while allowing himself a few liberties backstage.
“Ngaio Marsh was famous for her mysteries set in theatres. I had always wanted to set a book there and had rather skirted around it. I didn’t want one or two scenes there. I wanted to have a book that was really based in the theatre.”
Bath’s Theatre Royal offered a jewel, 250 years old, refurbished but essentially a traditional proscenium arch theatre with plush red seating and gilding.
And now with its own murder.
Fortunately for Peter, the theatre has taken the book as a rich compliment. They are throwing a party for him.
Part of the attraction for Peter was the fact that the theatre comes with its own ghost, a key element in the book: “The grey lady is well established.”
The story is that the unfortunate woman in question hanged herself, possibly out of unrequited love for one of the actors: “Over the years there have been many sightings. There was a famous one with Anna Neagle years ago. She saw the grey lady in the box in the theatre and mentioned it to some of the cast and some of them saw it as well.”
Also playing its part in the book is the legend of the Theatre Royal butterfly: “It’s really rather amazing that these butterflies appear out of season. If you see one that is alive, it is a good omen. If you seen a dead one, you had better watch out. Even this year during the pantomime season one of these butterflies appeared!”
The book is Peter Diamond’s 11th outing - and this time contains a little hint as to who Peter would like to play him should his detective ever come to the small screen: Timothy Spall. An option on the series has been taken, so TV is certainly possible.
“I think Timothy Spall is such a brilliant actor. He can do anything. It’s the physical side. He has rather the appearance Diamond would have.”
Peter has already completed his next Diamond: “This one is much more an action book. There is much more movement and rushing about. Perhaps I felt after the confines of the theatre that I would get him out again! It involves the shooting of a policeman in the first chapter by a serial sniper who is shooting policemen in Somerset at will...”
For the moment though, Peter is contemplating a ten-city tour of the States on the back of Stagestruck, taking in cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York.
“All my books have been published in America from the very beginning, which is wonderful and which has helped me stay afloat as a professional writer. I am actually doing better over there than I am in England, Maybe it is because of the fact that I am British and there is some appeal over there in reading about the traditional English mystery.
“I have got a lot to thank the likes of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers for. They built up the golden age of mystery, and I am very pleased to tap into that tradition. My books are quite traditional whodunnits and maybe thought of as old-fashioned in a way. I don’t go in for a lot of violence!”