Series: Detective Chief Inspector Henrietta `Hen' Mallin (first book, there is something of a prequel as she appeared in the 2003 "The House Sitter" Peter Diamond book).
The Chichester Writer's Circle: Chairman: Maurice McDade (first suspect, had a book titled "Unsolved" about unsolved crimes about to be published by the publisher Edgar Blacker); Founding Ladies: Dagmar Bumstead (the unpublished romantic novelist under the name Desiree Eliot, most recent work: "Passion Fruit") and Thomasine O'Loughlin (erotic poetry); The Married Couple: Naomi (witchcraft book, her stare frightens others, very nosy, writes up the activities on an internet website, calling it an e-book) and Basil Green (gardener, somewhat laid back); Secretary and Treasurer: Amelia Snow (proper older woman writing book about the famous Snows: "The Snows of Yesteryear"; Others: Zach Beale (long-haired fantasy writer, "Madrigor: The Coming of the Warrior"), Sharon ("dumb blonde" who doodles and doesn't talk much at the meetings; a hairdresser), Tudor Thomas (autobiography, name-dropper), Anton (retired civil servant, constantly on the look-out for cliches and the like), Jessie Warmington-Smith (widow of an Archdeacon, technophobe, working on a book about tips from the past for living in 21th century); Newcomer: Bob Naylor (quick witted poems, and the one of three that is investigating the matter).
The Police: Inspector Henrietta Mallin sent in when the local Detective wasn't getting the job done (DI Johnny Cherry).
Minor Characters: Marcus Chalybeate (Lord Chalybeate of Boxgrove, ex-Mark Kiddlewick) - publisher of magazines in previous life, now big in health clubs and a politician. Naylor's 14 year old daughter Sue. Fran, Maurice's above seventy-year-old wife (Maurice is somewhere in his 50s). Fran had been previously married to a notorious criminal.
Special Appearance by: Peter Diamond (very brief).
Plot: A man (Maurice) that runs a writer's circle is happy to finally get his book published, and invites the publisher (Blacker) to come give a talk to the circle (and make comments on some of the member's work). Blacker says some nice things but is mostly dismissive of their work. Later Blacker tries to get Maurice to pay for the publication of Maurice's book. Blacker, it turns out, is an undisclosed vanity publisher (vanity publisher = publishing house that publishes an author's work with the author paying for the publication; undisclosed = Blacker hides the fact that he will require the author to pay for the publication until the last moment, right before publication). The book opens with Blacker's death. Maurice is picked up by the police and various members of the circle attempt to investigate the matter. Dagmar, Bob Nalyor and Thomasine work together to try to prove Maurice's innocence (with Bob the one mostly at the forefront, and Dagmar mostly in the shadows). Naomi and Zach attempt to investigate the matter themselves, while using the crisis as an opportunity to come up with an e-book (Naomi is gung-ho, Zach doesn't particularly like the idea). Eventually the police step to the forefront in the guise of DCI Hen Mallin.
Review: This book is similar to two previous Lovesey books, "Bloodhounds" and "The Last Detective" (both in the Peter Diamond series). Like "Bloodhounds," this book deals with a local social club. In the "Bloodhounds," it was a club for readers, in "The Circle" it is a club of writers. The structure of "The Circle" is similar to the structure in "The Last Detective." Both books follow the structure of having amateurs moving through some crisis in the first half of the book, while the second half of the book is taken over by the police. In "The Circle," the main character in the first half of the book is Bob Naylor, a newcomer to the Chichester Writer's Circle, who is somewhat pressured to try to prove the innocence of Maurice for the murder of Blacker. The second half of the book follows DCI Hen Mallin's investigation of the murders (more than one murder). Neither Naylor nor Mallin are the sole points of view in their sections, and Naylor's point of view continues, somewhat at a lesser level, in the second half of the book.
The first half of the book is very good and riveting. When the book adds in DCI Hen Mallin, the book begins to become a little disappointing. When I read "The Last Detective," I had a similar feeling, though there I liked the Peter Diamond character better than the Hen Mallin character. The characterization of the main characters is outstanding, and even something of the personality of the first murder victim is revealed along the way. All of the writer's circle members are given a satisfactory characterization, though the main characters have a deeper personality. The setting is well-laid out. The mystery is well-thought-out and interesting. Overall, I would give the book 4.35 stars.