Wobble to Death

Written by Peter Lovesey
Review by Bruce Macbain

It is a cold November morning in 1879 and a dozen ‘pedestrians’ in silk drawers and white tights gather at the Agricultural Hall in Islington, a structure so vast that it contains its own fog. The occasion is a ‘wobble’—a grueling six-day marathon race. This is the setting of Peter Lovesey’s first Victorian mystery, now reissued.

The competitors are rough working-class types except for Captain Chadwick, ex- Guards officer and the favorite to win, and Mostyn-Smith, a puny self-styled doctor who arrives for the contest with a trunk full of mysterious potions. The race is only in its second day when Captain Chadwick’s strongest competitor, Charles Darrell, dies of strychnine poisoning. Enter Detective Sergeant Cribb and his partner, the stolid Constable Thackeray. As Cribb sifts the evidence, the footsore contestants, fewer each day, slog on toward the finish line.

Lovesey, an expert in Victorian sports arcana, guides the plot with a deft touch and plenty of period atmosphere. Readers who have not yet made his acquaintance will find him a delightful companion.