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The Diamond Coterie, by Lawrence Lynch

November 26, 2008

"Constance Wardour, you love Clifford Heath."

So, The Diamond Coterie was kind of awesome, and shall henceforth be enshrined in my heart, but it’s hard to know what to say about it, because there was a lot going on. There were a lot of characters, any of whom might turn out to be a detective in disguise, and a number of intertwined plots, although it was hard to say how many because the reader is never given the full confidence of any character.

We arrive in the small city of W—- on a day when two events have upset the richest and most aristocratic families in town. Miss Constance Wardour, an heiress who lives with her aunt Mrs. Aliston, has been robbed of her famous collection of diamonds. Sybil Lamotte, her best friend and the daughter of prominent businessman Jasper Lamotte, has eloped with John Burrill, a local ne’er-do-well with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. The Lamotte family also includes the haughty Mrs. Lamotte, Evan — age about 20 — the alcoholic, and Frank, who is handsome and respectable and in love with Constance Wardour, but is somehow not quite to our liking.

Constance’s other suitor is Dr. Clifford Heath, who is likable but mysterious, having moved to W—- several years earlier, no one knows where from. Then there are the two detectives: Neil J. Bathurst, who is clearly a good guy and knows Dr. Heath, apparently under a different name; and Jerry Belknap, who Jasper Lamotte calls in to investigate the theft of Constance’s diamonds, and who is ambiguously evil, but not in a likable way.

Eventually Sybil comes back with her new husband. He is a brute, and she seems to be in the process of going crazy, but Evan, who is devoted to her, does what he can to help her.  Meanwhile, the two detectives are running around in various different disguises, Frank is trying to get Constance to marry him, and John Burrill is telling people that he knows things about Dr. Heath that Heath would not like others to hear.

Burrill ends up murdered, Heath is accused, and everything gets a lot more confusing before it is all made clear. And so much information is held back that the reader has little chance of solving the mystery. But somehow, I loved this book. It was so melodramatic and silly, but in a consistent, reliable sort of way. And Constance was pretty cool, and didn’t lose her personality when she got her happy ending. And lots of people’s eyes occasionally glowed wickedly for no adequately explained reason. Frank Lamotte, actually, had some kind of mysterious disease involving attacks of, like, impotent rage that somehow put his life in danger, and that storyline was completely abandoned. And ‘cigar’ is consistently spelled ‘segar’. And Neil J. Bathurst’s deductions seem reasonable most of the time. And Dr. Heath is kind of haughty and Constance likes to order people around.

Taken as a whole, I can’t come up with a good reason for liking this book, but there are so many fun little things that the experience of reading it was hugely enjoyable. I kept comparing it to Tracy Park, although the similarities are mostly surface ones — aristocratic American families living near smallish towns, stolen diamonds, written in the 1880s, brain fever, etc. But Tracy Park is somehow more than the sum of its parts, and The Diamond Coterie is less. But those parts are pretty awesome.

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