Review of “This Body of Death” by Elizabeth George”

Reading a cozy, British-style mystery by Elizabeth George can be compared to having a full, rich-bodied red wine – Meritage, perhaps, rather than a cheaper, thinner variety. Or having a mousse-filled torte instead of a plain chocolate cake. She belongs in her genre, and yet provides a richer, more satisfying expression of it than many other authors of her kind.

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This latest volume in the series involving Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley of the London Metropolitan Police can be fully understood without having read earlier books in the series, but with a series I generally prefer to start at the beginning to see the characters develop over time. Additionally, now when I pick up the next volume (and this is the 16th!) I feel as if I am reuniting with old friends.

My imaginary pals in this series consist not only of Lynley but of his two closest friends, Simon St. James and his wife Deborah, and his closest work colleagues, Detective Sargeants Barbara Havers and Winston Nkata. Barbara has wonderful neighbors – Taymullah Azhar and his daughter Hadiyyah, whom you can’t help but love. A new character is added this time: Isabelle Ardery, who arrived to take over as acting department head when Lynley took time off for compassionate leave after the murder of his wife five months previously.

Acting Detective Superintendent Ardery is 38, divorced, and nice looking. Thomas Lynley, whom Ardery calls back to work to help her transition, is good-looking and now single. He is not like the other police; he is an Earl, for one thing, who doesn’t really need this job. As Ardery observes:

“[people of Lynley’s kind] went into nightclubs and stayed till dawn, they skied in the Alps – French, Italian, or Swiss, what did it matter? – and they traveled to places like Portofino or Santorini or other multisyllabic Mediterranean, Ionian, or Aegean locations endings in vowels. But they didn’t work at ordinary jobs, and if they did because they needed the money, they certainly didn’t choose to be coppers.”

The urbane Lynley shows his good breeding on every occasion without being snobbish or even unlikeable. Ardery commandeers him to be her partner. You can guess what happens. The problem is, no one [else] likes Ardery – not the other police, and not even we the readers.

But Lynley’s private life, as compelling as it might be, is not the focus of this book. Rather, it is the brutal stabbing of a young girl – Jemima Hastings – in a London cemetery. [I was curious and checked: Jemima is a fairly common name in Great Britain, where the association with “Aunt Jemima” is not part of the culture.] The author throws red herrings and twists in our path as we follow the trail along with the detectives on the case. It isn’t a rushed process, as the book is quite long, but my interest never flagged. And George even manages to make some fun of her genre along the way. When Lynley goes to the British Museum to learn more about an old coin found with the dead girl that seems important, the curator says to him:

“‘Never thought I’d be talking to a cop. Read masses of mysteries and detective novels, I do. Who d’you reckon you’re more like, then, Rebus or Morse?’

‘I have a fatal proclivity for vintage vehicles,’ Lynley admitted.

‘Morse it is.’ … So. What c’n I do for you, then, Inspector Lynley?’”

Nota Bene: [The curator is referring to two U.K. mystery series: Colin Dexter’s popular novels about Chief Inspector Morse, and Ian Rankin’s even more popular novels about Inspector Rebus.]

Discussion: One of the subthemes of this book is that of abused children, and the effects of that abuse, both of which George limns in some detail. I particularly was struck by this observation:

“Abused children carry abuse forward through time. This is the unthinkable gift that keeps on giving. Study after study underscores this conclusion…”

The assorted themes and subplots come together at the end, of course, but the author also leaves some character developments open for the next installment.

Evaluation: In spite of not liking Lynley’s attraction to Ardery [what is he thinking?!!!], this is another solid entry in the irresistible line of the Thomas Lynley series. If you like mysteries and aren’t familiar with the books of Elizabeth George (who, by the way, is American, although she writes U.K. mysteries along with the best of them), you’re missing a treat.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Harper, 2010

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25 Responses to Review of “This Body of Death” by Elizabeth George”

  1. Julie P. says:

    So glad to hear you enjoyed this one. It actually counts for the EW Summer Books Challenge that I’m hosting, so I’m really looking forward to reading it.

  2. Eva says:

    Oh! I’ve never read Elizabeth George, but I lurve British ‘cosy’ mysteries, so now I want to give her a try. 🙂

  3. Barbara says:

    Strange that I haven’t read her in ages. I adore British cozies for a break between more serious stuff. I’m in the midst of Mrs. Lincoln now though.

  4. bermudaonion says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever read any of Elizabeth George’s books, but I am familiar with it – I always thought she was British. I imagine I would enjoy her work.

  5. Kay says:

    I haven’t read an Elizabeth George book in quite a while. Since before Helen’s death I think. I got kind of tired of them, but then I watched all the TV adaptations and loved those. So….I need to step back in. I appreciate you sharing about this one. How funny the author put the Morse and Rebus plugs in there. Part of my problems is that I read so many mystery series and some of them are quite lengthy. If I don’t strictly keep up, it’s hard to catch up again. And I keep adding more…..sigh.

  6. Belle says:

    I’m hoping to get my hands on this one soon. I must admit, I really miss Helen, and am still very sad that George killed her off. (I remember I was in a daze for a few days after reading that one, muttering to everyone around, “how could she do that? how? why? why?” – my way of grieving.)

  7. Margot says:

    I haven’t read any of Elizabeth George’s books but I’m adding her to my list. I love English mysteries but I’m going to have to finish up the cozy mystery challenge first. I like all the teaser sentences you used. Very tempting.

  8. Jenners says:

    Your introductory paragraph was divine! All you need to do is compare an author to chocolate mousse and you have me.

  9. Staci says:

    I must read one of her books this summer!! Where should I start?????

    • Staci,

      Well, as you may have noticed, I get a bit obsessive compulsive over series, so if somehow I get introduced to a new one, I make a list of them in order and start at the beginning and keep going. Even if I have to skip one for some reason, I always make sure at least to read the first one. The first of this series is A Great Deliverance. You can see the entire list in order prior to “This Body of Death” here: http://www.amazon.com/Thomas-Lynley-Barbara-Havers-chrono/lm/R1HR774S584X2

      There are DVDs available as well of the BBC series, and the guy who plays Lynley is quite nice looking!

  10. I would never have described these books as cozy mysteries!!! I’m a few behind in the series..I really need to catch up!

  11. Nicole says:

    I have never thought of these as cozies. They seem way too long and involved, but I have heard great things about this author. I have this one and hope to read it at some point.

    • Amy and Nicole,

      I think it’s more of a continuum between a “thriller” and a “cozy” defining mysteries, but I also watched some of the DVDs from the British BBC version, in which the books are described as “cozies.”

  12. I hate not to begin at the beginning of a series but 16…hmmm..I may just have to jump in.

  13. Rita K says:

    Jlli,
    I have not read Elizabeth George in awhile. Got away from her. I will have to try reading this one.

    PS. I won’t read “The Passage.” The only vampire books I can stomach are the Sookie Stackhouse ones.

  14. Katie J says:

    I appreciate how George continued to focus on child violence in this book- as in With No One As Witness and What Came Before He Shot Her. At first I was puzzled, but while another mystery writer would have pushed on to a new topic, it wouldn’t have been true to these characters.

    Lynley IS still obsessing about the violence done to his wife. Instead of forcing the reader to listen to him ruminate on it, his subconscious is adopted by a subordinate narrative voice. This is very clever. It hit the right tone. I enjoyed it, but was, too, annoyed and confounded by the Ardery/Lynley hookup. I don’t believe Lynley would support an active alcoholic for chief inspector.

  15. Lix says:

    As I have done with all of EG’s books, I just gobbled up this one, though the depiction of little John Dresser’s brutal murder and the lead-up to it is exceedingly hard to stomach – the more so since it is based on an actual case. The enormity of that crime overshadows everything else – which would be the main story. I just kept thinking – no, please don’t go on. Stop it. I’ve got it all in my mind already, no need to spell it all out. Still, the more the story unravels, the better you understand why George started out the way she did. At the end of the day, what she tries to do is make society aware of the neglect its own children have to suffer – no better way to show this than the quote about abused children.
    This is not a cozy by any means – IMHO at least.
    Let me just add two points I count as flaws in an otherwise thrilling read: it would appear nobody except Linley liked Ardery. Nor did I. It’s nothing to do with her alcoholism but rather with the fact that she has no regard at all for the members of what after all is her team. The fact Linley comes to her rescue at the end appears to be rather out of character. After all, she botched up almost everything that was botchupable.
    And – EG fails to give more than the most basic – if at all – background information about the main evildoers. I’d rather not elaborate on this. It would mean giving to much of the game away.
    Still, a must-read, despite some shortcomings. Unputdownable, as they say.

  16. gail newholm says:

    I can’t wait for any new George to come out – I gobble them up and then get very depressed when I’ve finished them – agree with the comments about Linley and Ardery – can’t help thinking George is setting up something for future books – I realy wish I hadn’t read her as the thought of discovering them all over again really appeals-thought the television series was a very pale thing compared to the books – why did they dress up Havers!! Can’t wait for the next one.

  17. koxidine says:

    I was really disappointed in this book. I have been eagerly awaiting it since her last book left me cold (tried 4 times and couldn’t read it).

    Also, the sub-story of John Dresser, obviously a “take off” on the James Bulger case was totally inappropriate I felt; just getting her commentary in on her feelings on the sentencing of violent young offenders. Her conclusions on this case turned me off as I am sure it will many people who were actively involved in the James Bulger case.

    Too bad as I will no longer read her books.

  18. helen eddie says:

    I am devoted fan of Elizabeth George’s books and have read all 16 of them. Have to say that when Helen was dispatched I could not believe that she had really written out such a main character. I found This Body of Death to be an absolute page turner and could not figure out the relationship between the murder of the toddler and what was transpiring in what seemed to be happening in the so called main plot. Excellent story line. Not too fond of Isabelle, can’t believe that Lynley would really fall for her.

  19. Karen D says:

    I loved and eagerly awaited most of the books in the detective Lynley series. The first ‘A Great Deliverance’ is not the very good but those after until well Helen was killed were great. Helen and Lynley were part of what made the series a great soap opera cum detective novel. Havers, Nkata etc – killing any of the reoccuring characters would be sad. The tone of the books changed as well after Helen died. I think George has moved on but clings to the series because it is familiar but wants to write differently. It shows. I no longer eagerly await her books. She should either continue with the Lynley series in the way it was or move on – doing both at the same time is weak.

  20. Barbara Danziger says:

    When are you going to deal with the real murderer of Helen? that was left hanging.

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