HAVE A DICTIONARY READY!
4 STARS OUT OF 5
This novel is a British police procedural and the first in the Inspector Lynley series. Chapter by chapter, Elizabeth George introduces us to the five characters who will define this series: Thomas Lynley, Barbara Havers, Simon St. James, Deborah St. James and Lady Helen Clyde.
During the introduction of these characters into the plot line, we must remember that this book has a copyright date of 1988. This means that there are no cell phones, no Internet, no personal computers and no hand-held digital cameras. Therefore, we must wait and watch patiently as the investigation in conducted on foot, by landline and in person. Not only is there no Google, there is no library in the town either, a fact that plays prominently in the story and makes research quite difficult for Lynley and Havers.
From the opening page, the author’s characterizations are 3-dimensional and are often brutal in their descriptions. No character, no matter how minor he or she may seem, comes off as cardboard or flat. And no character is painted in the black-and-white of goodness or evil. Their fears, dreams, loves and hates are revealed scene by scene and no one, especially not our two protagonists, is spared.
Even though this series is titled after Inspector Lynley, the driving character in this first novel is actually his temporary partner, DS Barbara Havers. In this character, the author has created quite an anomaly, for Barbara is a physically unattractive woman, very unattractive in face, body and clothing. However, she is quite intelligent and more than competent in uncovering evidence. However, the ugliness of her appearance is a direct result of an ugliness in her mind. As a result, her interpretive skills are deplorable, making innuendos and gossip the same as incontrovertible fact.
And to top it off, she has absolutely no filters between her brain and her mouth. A soul-deep bitterness and hate, with as-yet undisclosed origins, presents itself on a daily, even a minute-by-minute basis, as vicious verbal venom. This uncontrolled venom has sabotaged her career in CID and she is truly despised by everyone, and I mean everyone, she has ever worked with.
And then the Beast is forced to work with the Beauty. Suffice it to say here that opposites do not attract. But, in the end, Havers and Lynley, the commoner and the Earl, venom and honey, get it done.
From the earliest pages of the book, the author provides us with peeks and glimpses into the driving forces and the pivotal circumstances that have brought Lynley and Havers to this point and that govern their every action during the week in which this story takes place. Then, during the last 100 pages, just as she drives the story to its psychologically shattering conclusion, she expands those peeks and glimpses into a full-blown cinematic slideshow. Eight individuals, eight pasts and eight presents, collide in an explosive conflagration of truths from which there is no way out but up.
Figuring out the mystery was quite challenging. Just when you think you know the who and the why, you don’t. But the most challenging part of the novel was the vocabulary with which it was written.
Between the names of the antiques, the painters and their paintings, the composers and their works and the constant references to the works of Bronte, Austen and Shakespeare, I often felt like I was trying to solve the New York Times Sunday crossword rather than a murder mystery. And then there were the myriad of words for which I needed more than a standard desk dictionary to explain. Apparently Elizabeth George possesses an extensive thesaurus, one which she is not afraid to use. Even Lynley was, at one point, cursing his lack of knowledge in English literature. But at least, on the subject of curses, Ms. George provided us with two synonyms for that concept before the book was over.
This review was published on Amazon and Goodreads on December 2, 2013.
Cover art from Goodreads.