A LIFETIME OF LIES
Thomas Lynley, at 34 years of age, is a detective inspector with the CID at New Scotland Yard. He is very good at his job and well respected amongst his peers. And, in this book, that is the start of his troubles. For Thomas Lynley is a peer. He is Lord Asherton, the eighth Earl of Asherton, to be exact. And his presence is commanded by the upper echelon of the Yard when Stuart Rintoul, Lord Stinhurst, sixteenth or seventeenth Earl of Stinhurst, finds himself at the scene of a murder.
Lord Stinhurst is a prominent London producer and has contracted with Joy Sinclair, a renowned true crime writer, to write an original play for his troupe, a group that has been working together for almost 20 years. Script approved, Stinhurst has Sinclair, his main troupe and a media writer assemble at his widowed sister’s estate in Scotland.
Accompanying the leading lady is her husband/agent. And Stinhurst has brought his wife and spinster daughter. The director has also brought along a guest, the daughter of yet another earl. To complicate matters, the supporting actress is divorced from the lead actor. And she is also the sister of Joy Sinclair. But the sister and Sinclair are estranged, since Sinclair had an affair with the sister’s husband, that leading actor, precipitating their divorce. On top of all this, Sinclair was the fiancée of Stinhurst’s son prior to his death. And let’s not forget the widowed sister, the maid and the handyman. Needless to say, tensions are high in this soap opera.
Then Joy Sinclair announces that she has made a few revisions to the script. When the group begins the read-through, they discover very quickly that the “revisions” constitute a full-plot rewrite. Sinclair, with her true crime bent, has altered the original script to expose some very nasty skeletons in the Stinhurst family closet. The read-through devolves into a brawl, after which all parties retreat to parts unknown within the mansion. The next morning Joy Sinclair is found dead, a dirk driven through her neck, skewered to the mattress.
Enter Thomas Lynley, ordered to investigate in a jurisdiction in which he has minimal authority and in a jurisdiction that has not officially requested Yard assistance. While this situation confuses Lynley, nothing prepares him for what happens next. Upon arriving at the estate, he finds out that Lady Helen Clyde, one of his closest friends and the woman he has come to love, has spent the night in the room next door to that of the murdered woman, having begged off spending the weekend with him. He then finds out that she is actually spending the weekend with the director of the play, Rhys Davies-Jones.
Lynley goes off the rails, betrayed in more ways than one. For the first time in his career, he is determined to force the evidence to fit his needs instead of letting the evidence lead what way it will. And his need is to make that director, that man who slept with Helen, that man whose fingerprints are on one of the keys to Joy Sinclair’s room, the murderer of Joy Sinclair.
Elizabeth George has written a mystery that has an entire cast of suspects hating not only the victim but each other. As the sub-plots twist and twine, we are hard pressed to decide just who murdered the woman. But one thing we do know, regardless of the evidence discovered or the theories advanced, is that the director, Rhys Davies-Jones, is not the murderer. He cannot be or the author will have destroyed our main protagonist morally, psychologically and professionally. Lynley simply cannot be allowed to win this fight, not this way. And Barbara Havers, his sergeant, with Simon St. James, is determined to save him from himself, even if they have to lie to him to do it.
First published in 1989, with a storyline that occurs in 1988, this book, at the time of this review, exposes us to a 25-year cultural difference. Computers exist in government agencies but only word processors are in private hands. There is no Internet to speed up research nor are there cell phones to ease communication difficulties.
And the legal procedures are vastly different than what we experience today. In our current society, no question is too invasive; no privacy is afforded in a murder investigation. But that’s now, not 1989 when this story was written. So when you read Lady Helen’s reactions to Lynley’s very pointed questions at the beginning of the novel, she is not being a drama queen. She is reacting within the cultural norm of her day when women, particularly titled women, were rarely asked about the details of their sex lives in front of witnesses.
While the murder mystery itself is both convoluted and masterfully crafted, it is primarily a vehicle for the character growth of Lynley, Havers and Lady Helen. As Lynley and Lady Helen spiral downward into self-recrimination and depression, Havers finds her way upward, past her prejudices and the chip on her shoulder. She becomes the glue and the driving force that saves Lynley from being crushed by the politics of the Yard. And just as Lynley and Lady Helen must choose to face some harsh realities before they can face each other, Havers must choose between her career and her mentor.
This paperback edition is 413 pages of small print and tightly spaced lines. That makes it a long read. However, the intellectual and emotional workouts that are fashioned on those pages make it worth the time.
Cover Art from Goodreads