The Tick of Death

Written by Peter Lovesey
Review by John R. Vallely

Peter Lovesey richly deserves the many awards and honors bestowed upon him since his premier novel, the extravagantly titled Wobble to Death, in 1970. Two characters introduced in this Victorian period crime novel, Sergeant Cribb and Constable Thackeray of Scotland Yard, would live on as principles in the seven follow-up Sergeant Cribb books. Sadly, the series came to an end when Lovesey turned his attention to writing for a television series starring Cribb and Thackeray. These novels had been long out of print, but Soho Constable has done us all a favor by bringing our indefatigable protectors of law and order back.

Tick of Death, the fifth in the series and first published as Invitation to a Dynamite Party, came out in 1974 while A Case of Spirits, the sixth, was first published in 1975. Tick of Death is based on bombings in 1884 London by Irish revolutionaries. The forthright Constable Thackeray, of all people, is at first suspected of playing a part in the outrages. Sergeant Cribb takes on the burden of solving the crimes while simultaneously removing the stain on Thackeray’s record. To do so, he must first take a course in bomb-making so as to pass himself off as an amoral mercenary skilled in explosives. Cribb’s education in the arcane world of bombs is held at Woolwich Arsenal. The learning curve is a steep one, and Cribb’s exposure to the bomb makers and the bombs themselves was, to this reader, easily the most enjoyable part of the novel. The now “expert” bomber goes on to thwart the attempted bombing of the Prince of Wales while using one of John Holland’s early submarines. His reward? Being sent back to Woolwich Arsenal for additional training in a field he loathes!