Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of Wobble to Death by Peter Lovesey. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.
Soho Press (Trade Paperback)
ISBN-10: 1-56947-523-7 (1569475237)
ISBN-13: 978-1-56947-523-2 (9781569475232)
Publication Date: October 2008
List Price: $14.00
Review: Wobble to Death was Peter Lovesey's first mystery, originally published in 1970, and introduced Sergeant Cribb. Set in the Victorian London, it was the first of eight mysteries featuring the sergeant that involved sports-related deaths. Soho Press is reissuing (at least) the first two as trade paperbacks.
Sergeant Cribb and his assistant, Constable Thackery, are called to investigate the murder of a contender in a race walking competition known as the “wobbles”. It is a popular sport also called a “Go as You Please Contest.” The object of this race is to see how far a man could walk, run or hobble for six days and six nights. By some it is considered a “bloody fiasco.” There is an entrance fee for the observers and participants ("pedestrians"), plus many townsmen put wagers on the outcome. It is an extraordinary occurrence that brings in a lot of money. At the start of the race, on a chilly, foggy November morning there are sixteen participants. Two of the men, Erskine Chadwick and Charlie Darrell, each a five hundred miler, are actual athletes who had trained vigorously for this event, and are the favorites to win. The others are men who joined for the thrill of it hoping to come in third or fourth, but having no real hope of winning. The winner is to receive five hundred pounds and a belt showing him to be known as the Champion Pedestrian of the World. On the second day, Darrell has fallen by severe leg cramps, like he had never experienced in the past. Before the day was over, he was dead – murdered. And soon thereafter, Darrell's trainer is found dead, with what appears to be a suicide note at his side. But Sergeant Cribb is suspicious of this. Those with potential motives are brought in for questioning. These include Darrell’s wife Cora, Erskine Chadwick and his trainer, and the sponsor and manager of the race. Although many feel the race should be cancelled, the sponsor, afraid of losing a lot of money, decides to continue the race “in honor of their fallen colleague”. Ironically, Sergeant Cribb also wants the race to continue to give him ample time to solve the crimes. This event, as it turns out, becomes a race to nab a killer before the race itself concludes.
Wobble to Death is a fascinating mystery involving an unlikely sporting competition. The author provides a historical background to this unusual event while setting the stage for a cleverly concocted murder. The characters are well drawn, colorful and droll, and the plot fast paced and thoroughly enjoyable. The book was a winner of the Macmillan First Crime Novel Prize in 1970 and later was later honored as one of the top 100 crime novels of all time by the Crime Writers Association (1990) and one of the top 100 crime novels of all time by the Mystery Writers of America (1995). Deservedly so.
Review Copyright © 2008 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved.
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Synopsis (from the author): A strange collection of so-called “proven pedestrians” starts at 1 am on a November Monday morning. By Tuesday one of them is dead. Tetanus from infection of a foot blister is suspected at first, but when Sergeant Cribb from Scotland Yard is called in he discovers that strychnine was being given as a stimulant. This is only the first of a series of revelations.
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