Headline that got Peter thinking ...

Peter Lovesey
Peter Lovesey

Crime writers often get asked: “Just where did the idea for the book come from?”

Chichester’s Peter Lovesey, pictured, can give a very exact answer for his latest novel, The Tooth Tattoo, newly published by Sphere.

His starting point was an article headlined Four’s A Crowd in The Guardian nine years ago.

“How do the members of a string quartet play together and tour together year in, year out, without killing each other?” asks the piece, which was written by Endellion String Quartet cellist David Waterman.

David notes the two most frequently-asked questions are ‘Do you ever argue?’ and ‘How do you manage to stay together for so long?’

And Peter says, for someone with a warped mind, as a crime writer must have, the article immediately suggested possibilities – possibilities which then matured in the back of his mind.

The result is the latest – and 13th – challenge for Peter’s detective Peter Diamond, head of Bath’s CID.

Diamond takes a city break in Vienna, where his favourite film, The Third Man, was set, but everything goes wrong, and his companion Paloma calls a halt to their relationship.

Meanwhile, strange things are happening to jobbing musician Mel Farran, who finds himself scouted by methods closer to the spy world than the concert platform. The chance of joining a once-famous string quartet in a residency at Bath Spa University is too tempting for Mel to refuse.

Then a body is found in the city canal, and the only clue to the dead woman’s identity is the tattoo of a music note on one of her teeth. For Diamond, who wouldn’t know a Stradivarius from a French horn, the investigation is his most demanding yet. Three mysterious deaths need to be probed while his own personal life is in freefall.

At first, writer Peter thought he had the makings of a short story on his hands, but the more he developed the idea, the more he realised it had to be a full-length novel. Either way, it required substantial research as Peter plunged himself into the world of classical music, classical quartets in particular.

“I just started reading about different quartets. There is a book by the wife of one of the Amadeus. There are a number of books about the Budapest String Quartet. I felt so ignorant about music before that I read everything I possibly could. I scoured the internet and bought all the books I could find.

“I went to a school where there was no music at all apart from singing lessons once a week with all the boys messing around! Nothing was done. I still can’t read music, and I have never learnt an instrument, but I have always enjoyed listening to music. The whole thing was a joy to do. It was enormous fun. But I was reading with a different eye to the average person that picks up a book. I was looking out for motives!”

It was his way into the dynamics of string quartets: “I think some of them get exasperated with each other, and there must be jealousies with them. Very often they won’t sit with each other on a plane. I liked the idea that they come together for a rehearsal and they are working in harmony to produce the most beautiful effects in music you can imagine, and yet when they finish, they go off in direction directions.

“And so I started thinking it would be a good Peter Diamond investigation...”