Book Reviews

Author: Elizabeth George
Series Title: Lynley/Havers Mysteries
Individual Titles: A Suitable Vengeance; A Great Deliverance; Well-Schooled in Murder; Missing Joseph; Payment in Blood; For the Sake of Elena; Playing for the Ashes; In the Presence of the Enemy; Deception on His Mind; In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner; A Traitor to Memory; I, Richard (hardcover, short stories, one has Lynley)

Update - June 2003 - I, Richard will soon be out in paperback; A Place of Hiding is coming in hardcover. From the editorial blurb, looks like the St. Jameses will be front and center on this one.

Update - April 2005 - A Place of Hiding has been out in paperback for a while now, and it's a worthy addition to the series, with an old friend of Deborah's tied up in a messy island mystery. With No One as Witness is now out in hardcover.

Update - Jan. 2007 - With No One as Witness has been out in paperback for quite some time (sorry...), and What Came Before He Shot Her is the newest in the series, probing the backstory of the previous entry.

Get ready to jump into England with both feet and prepare for a crash course in police procedure, class conflict, and an unstinting look at the unsavoury side of life. For anyone who thinks the literary mystery is dead, grab one of these and prove otherwise - just check out the titles, they're fantastically evocative, don't you think? There's an extended cast of recurring characters, who evolve continually and often unexpectedly, so I'll try to give thumbnails without giving too much away:
Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley, AKA the Eighth Earl of Asherton. Ostensibly the protagonist, most of the novels revolve around his cases. (Most, not all.)
Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, Lynley's partner, and another main focus - she really comes into her own (good and bad) in Deception on His Mind.
Simon St. James, boyhood friend of Lynley, horribly injured in an accident (Lynley's fault), and quite the wizard at forensics.
Deborah St. James, talented photographer, Simon's wife, Lynley's ex-fiancé (I know, it gets worse, just wait), and focus of many subplots.
Lady Helen Clyde, St. James's ex who now has an on-again, off-again relationship with Lynley (that gets resolved about 8 books in).
There are many more, but I'll leave those for you to discover on your own - keep an eye out for DC Winston Nkata, Joseph Cotter, Dee Harriman, and others.

On to the stories -
  • A Suitable Vengeance is first time-wise, although it was published fourth, as a kind of prologue/back-story, so might as well read it first. It focuses on the murder of a young newspaperman on Lynley's home turf and is loaded with class tension on all sides.
  • In A Great Deliverance Simon and Deborah go off on their honeymoon, only to be inadvertently followed by Lynley and Havers (on their first case as partners) investigating a particularly brutal patricide which gets more and more vile the deeper they dig, with abandonment and abuse figuring large.
  • The torture-murder of a young boy brings many buried secrets to light at an elite boarding school in Well-Schooled in Murder. Adultery, adoption, teenagers having children - this is definitely not one of the lighter entries in the series.
  • Missing Joseph focuses on more troubled kids, as well as Deborah and Simon's continuing inability to have one of their own. A chance encounter at a museum drags the St. Jameses, and through them Lynley and Havers, into a small-town murder and more digging-up of long-hidden identities.
  • The cast is called to Wales when a play-reading turns into a real-life murder mystery and Lady Helen is in the house party in Payment in Blood. Tying the threads of two disparate segments of the mystery takes a trip through espionage, Chekhov, and a country pub with a bizarre name before all is resolved to the satisfaction of CID.
  • The murder of the title character, a deaf college student, opens For the Sake of Elena. The exploration of Deaf culture becomes a main point, while the trumpet-playing daughter of one of Lynley's and Havers's superiors pops up as a fellow student to lend a hand in the investigation.
  • For those who know anything about cricket, Playing for the Ashes is obviously about that most confusing of sports. I tried to get this British violinist I played with last year to explain the rules, but, well, we were in a loud bar and I really didn't get much. This one has an interesting narrative device, going back and forth between the journal of an ALS-afflicted character and the usual third-person focus on Lynley, Havers et al.
  • In the Presence of the Enemy descends into the world of tabloid journalism and party politics, with a heavy emphasis on illegitimite children. When the drowned body of the daughter of an MP and a rag sheet editor surfaces, many long-buried secrets do too. There's a great twist in this one, and although you may see it coming it's still very well done.
  • In light of recent world happenings, Deception on His Mind provides an enlightening look into a Pakistani community, rife with racial tension, arranged marriages, and, for me anyway, many totally unfamiliar customs. When a young Pakistani man is found murdered on a beach, the family drags in a cousin who happens to be a lawyer - and happens to live next to Havers. She follows him down and gets herself smack in the middle of the whole mess, causing all sorts of havoc and ultimately being forced to make a very hard decision that steers the course of her career for the next few books, at least.
  • The next entry, In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner, touches on some of the more, shall we say, sordid happenings out there - postcard prostitution, S&M, things that many people prefer to pretend don't happen. However, as are all the others, it's exceedingly well-written and plotted with many surprises in store.
  • Big surprise, the one that focuses on a stagefright-stricken violinist - A Traitor to Memory - turns out to be my favorite. A former child prodigy succumbs to a panic attack during a performance of Beethoven's "Archduke" Trio and subsequently is unable to perform, or even touch his violin, so he goes into therapy to try and uncover why. The narrative wanders back and forth from his childhood to the present and ties in all kinds of loose ends along the way, and the ending is so shocking that I can't wait to see if there's any mention of it in future novels so I can find out how it ended - this one breaks off in media res to some extent.

Published by Bantam, they're running about $7.50 in paperback these days. I jumped into the series in the middle (In the Presence of the Enemy, if you're curious) and although these books make far more sense when read in sequence (that way you know all the back-stuff, there's loads more than what I've mentioned above) they stand alone fairly well. For some reason I like to read these in the summer - possibly because I have more time to sit around and devour them in one sitting, which I tend to do because George manages to fool me more often than just about any mystery writer I've read (with the possible exception of P.D. James - I may have to review hers soon...) and with each twist I become more determined to figure the darn thing out. These are not for the faint of heart, but other than that I'll make an unconditional recommendation - excellent plotting, elegant writing, very real characters and of course, the cool British slang. Had to get that in there.

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