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.
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.
Published by Harper, 2010