Jonathan Gash Essay - Critical Essays

John Grant


Although plot may be a primary concern in most detective fiction, it is probably not the main appeal of Jonathan Gash’s Lovejoy novels. Like other mystery writers, Gash introduces crimes, usually crimes involving the theft or forgery of valuable antiques. Those crimes then lead to one or more murders, and the murders are then solved by Lovejoy, often more by chance than by actual detective work on his part. Reviewers have often noted that Gash’s plots are sometimes convoluted and even outlandish and that his solutions are less than believable. However, readers of the series are fans of the character of Lovejoy, a rogue hero given to lying, theft, forgery, and an insatiable fondness for any available women (married or not) with whom he can, in his words, “make smiles.” This antihero is always out of money and in debt, lives in squalor (often without electricity when he has been too broke to pay the light bill), and dislikes the countryside. He drives a ridiculously ancient and unreliable car (like his Austin Ruby) when he has any car at all and abandons his lovers whenever he must choose between romance and an antique. Lovejoy has a satiric eye for society’s shortcomings (but a complete blindness to his own faults).

With all his failings, however, Lovejoy has several very appealing qualities. One is his inerrant ability to recognize a true antique: That ability, which makes him a “divvie,” sets off a chime in his midsection whenever he is near a true example of a Chippendale chair or a piece of genuine jade or a miner’s brooch or any one of the myriad other items an antiques dealer might want to own. Beyond that, Lovejoy is vastly knowledgeable about antiques and history, and he never minds interrupting his narrative to offer the reader some amusing information about dealers’ pricing codes or the ratio of fakes to genuine antiques (5:1 in East Anglia, he says) or the history of the art of enameling. Lovejoy’s information extends to the criminal world as well, and he is equally informative about how to insert a lead cylinder into a chair leg to give it weight that would suggest that it is made of rare woods or how long the smell of linseed oil will linger and give away the true age of a forged painting. The key to Lovejoy’s likability is his genuine love for the beautiful things that human beings can create. That is why he prefers towns to the countryside and why he has a deep respect for even the smallest artifacts of the past (and a contempt for the mass-produced plastics of today). It is the cause of his satiric wit, which targets the social pretensions of some of his clients. Something of that same love informs his passion for women; all of them, he says, have some element of beauty in them, even Chemise, the ugly girlfriend of his old friend Tryer who runs a mobile sex museum. Lovejoy also likes...

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