It is this infamous real-life murder case that inspires The False Inspector Dew by Peter Lovesey. In it, a dentist named Walter Baranov decides to murder his shrew of a wife Lydia on board the ocean liner Mauretania. The plan is a perfect one— he will be free to live with his lover Alma, a girl absolutely devoted to him. And in a touch of irony, to get away with the scheme he registers under a false name as Walter Dew, after the famous inspector who caught Crippen. There’s no way the scheme could possibly fail. But, irony of ironies, when a body is found bobbing in the ocean, the captain of the ship quite innocently asks the eminent Inspector Dew to investigate!
The False Inspector Dew combines a little bit of everything—inverted mystery, comedy, and through an ingenious plot development there’s a genuine mystery to be solved as well. It’s a delightful and downright delicious book to read. The plot twists and turns throughout, making it a definite page-turner. It’s ingenious as well—Lovesey gives his readers every clue, and when you reach the ending you realise just how neatly the author has treaded the line between cheating and fair play, while always remaining firmly on the “fair play” side.
The characters are also on the good side. The titular “False Inspector Dew” is a wonderful character; he’s a boring lover and a bad detective who is desperately trying to pass himself off as an ex-inspector. His lover Alma is a bit on the psychotic side, but in a very funny way—she is the one who starts the whole romance, finding Walter’s smallest, most ordinary gestures filled with romantic symbolism. She is a big reader of romantic novels and has unrealistic expectations, and that makes for plenty of fun. Even the doomed wife Lydia can be plenty of fun with her pig-headedness over the most unreasonable requests. And then there are all the passengers aboard the boat…
Overall, I highly recommend The False Inspector Dew. It won the CWA Gold Dagger Award, and in my opinion it was a very deserved prize. The story is an ingenious one, with terrific plot twists throughout to easily hold your interest. The ending is top-notch, and the reader is given every clue to solve the mystery that crops up. The comedy is terrific. The characters are loads of fun. And when you look at it in retrospect, there are some passages where I can only admire the author for creating a grand puzzle-plot in the fine old tradition. In short, the book is an absolute triumph. I’m afraid I’ll have to disagree with the PuzzleDoctor here and highly, highly recommend it.