After the hugely disappointing "What Came Before He Shot Her" and a less disappointing but still quite boring "Careless in Red," this new book of the Lynley-Havers series is a welcome return to the components that have made George so popular with so many readers.
I will not retell the plot of the book but I would like to mention some of the things that make me like this novel, even though I definitely do not consider it one of George's best works. For one, this novel is set for the most part in London. In my opinion, London-based novels by George are a lot better than the ones set elsewhere. Barbara Havers, Winston Nkata, and Thomas Lynley are all present here. Lynley is a bit boring in this book but Havers never disappoints. Her relationship with her neighbors keeps developing in interesting ways.
There are some very interesting characters in this novel. The mystery the novel revolves around interested me a lot. You really get into the characters and begin to care about what happened. There are unexpected twists of the plot, and the character psychology is spot on.
On the negative side, George still doesn't give up on the type of social criticism that she attempted (and failed) to deliver in "What Came Before He Shot Her." This makes the entrance into the book a little plodding. So brace yourself for the first 40 pages or so, they are somewhat dry and boring. Don't give up, though, it does get a lot better after the introductory part.
Overall, George seems well on the way to the kind of writing that made her such a fantastic mystery writer and that she sadly abandoned in the past couple of years. This book isn't perfect yet, but it has most of the ingredients that we have come to love in George's novels.
on April 23, 2010
In spite of my dislike of her last novel, I purchased and read "This Body of Death" immediately. I am pleased to say that this a a great improvement and reminds me why I have liked so much of what she has written over the years. It is not, however, a great mystery novel. Why? I think the biggest "problem" with the book is tone. The story seems to be told by Elizabeth George coolly looking down from a mountain top. Somehow all passion is missing from this tale, engaging as it is. It is as if everything and everyone in the novel is given equal weight.
The many characters are interesting, yet they are all somehow flat. One never gets inside of any of their heads. One sees them from the outside. There is no main character. Lynley is merely one of many. Havers is merely one of many. Deborah, thank goodness, makes only a brief albeit important appearance. The puppet master moves her pawns around the board. Somehow they don't "live" on the page.
The device of interspersing the sociologist's report on a long-ago child murder was puzzling even though the reader is aware that it will eventually be linked with the main story. Without giving away any plot details, it does link and adds insight into why the story unfolded as it did and why some characters acted as they did. Yet, there is an awful lot of it and it casts a long miserable shadow. I kept wondering if it was all going to tie into the sad and, for many of us, unforgivable murder of Helen. I do wish that George would give heavy-handed sociology a rest. Sometimes she makes me long for the simplicity and black-and-white worldview of Agatha Christie. That sin, misery and stupidity roll down through the years and beget more of the same is not a surprise to anyone who thinks about these things--and mystery readers very often do.
Good news: Lynley is returning to life. Havers has at least one new outfit that seems to work. There is an intriguing new character who I am sure will be back in the next book, vodka bottles in her purse and all.
on August 6, 2010
This book has received the full spectrum of reviewers' impressions, and I will not add to the confusion by attempting to reduce it. I will make a sole observation and criticism.
The igniting event of "This Body of Death" is a toddler's abduction, torture-for-amusement, and murder by three pre-teen sociopathic slackers, described in horrifying, heartbreaking, and unnecessarily leisurely and graphic detail through the device of a sociopathologic analysis of the criminals by a PhD social worker. This dissertation is presented in installments as a prelude and a dozen or so interludes throughout the main story, which revolves around an entirely different murder. The chronology of this crime in relation to the main action is not made clear until the end, nor is its relevance to the plot made explicit until then. Savvy readers will twig to the connection when the ultimate disposition of the child's murderers is revealed, and sophisticated readers who ponder the connection may guess it before then if they think outside the box of linear chronology. Unsophisticated readers like me will smack their foreheads when they realize how much earlier they should have recognized the obvious. It's an entertaining and effective device, perfectly capturing the tone of plodding and precious social-workspeak.
The criticism is that this episode is quite obviously based on the actual abduction, torture, and murder of a toddler named James Bulger in England in 1993. This crime, part of it caught on CCTV videotape, and the ensuing investigation, trial, and sentencing, caused a worldwide sensation for months, as well an intense controversy over the appropriate means of handling preteen murderers. Virtually all of the salient elements of the actual crime, including the toddler's abduction from a public shopping area while his parent's attention was momentarily diverted, the ages of the murderers and the victim, the critical role of CCTV footage in identifying the criminals, the sociopathic aspects of the boys' personalities, the sensationalism of the investigation, trial, and sentencing, and the boys' ultimate disposition, are imported more or less intact into George's novel. And yet the author and publisher have the amazing gall to make the baldfaced, patently ridiculous, and shockingly false standard disclaimer, and I quote, "The characters, incidents, and dialogue are PRODUCTS OF THE AUTHOR'S IMAGINATION..." and "ANY RESEMBLANCE to actual persons, living or dead, IS ENTIRELY COINCIDENTAL" (emphasis added). I guess it's enough just to say it's so, pretend it's so, and all will be fine. Apparently that would be the view of the publisher's doubtless expensively creative legal staff and of course George herself. I'm sure things are NOT fine with the anguished family of young James Bulger, and it rends the heart to imagine their feelings at having their personal tragedy callously appropriated to serve as the foundation for a murder novel by an author with a large and worldwide (including in the UK) readership and sales.
What truly puzzles me is why George didn't call upon that demonstrably fertile imagination of hers referred to in the disclaimer, and simply invent an impersonal crime that would have provided the needed foundation for the main plot. Why trumpet the Bulger tragedy and inevitably (if unintentionally) renew the sorrow of that poor family, as well as risk casting public attention on them again? Are fiction plots that recast famous notorious events somehow more, I don't know, "relevant" and therefore saleable? This reeks of opportunism, of capitalizing on a sensational and still well-remembered crime. And of creative laziness, the conviction (against the ethos of the fiction writer) that one couldn't possibly have come up with anything as clever as real life--or real death. Everyone who signed off on the inclusion of this conceit, from George to her professional readers, her editor, the executives of HarperCollins Publishers, and the publisher's legal staff, should be publicly shamed. My enjoyment of Elizabeth George has been irredeemably crippled.
on July 29, 2010
Has it been 20 years since we were first introduced to Scotland Yard's Inspector Thomas Lynley and his partner, Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers in A Great Deliverance? I even have watched the DVD's of the BBC series based on these books. I love these books. Ok - I loved...the older books because the last three have been blah and uninteresting. The series was fabulous when focusing on the crime, its mystery and the relationship between Tommy and Barbara. But since Helen died, the series, for me, has simply diverged to ho-hum. From book one Tommy loved Helen, pined after her. How long after her death does this story occur? Was it 5 months? I am not sure but not terribly long. However, we are asked to believe that in the same book Tommy boxes up the baby's room and shags Isabelle Ardery, who is not only his boss but has a drinking problem? Really - he would go from Helen to that????? And poor Barbara. I was happy that finally and I mean finally she was told to get herself together and start to look like a professional rather than the slob with a terrible haircut. I mean, not fix those teeth - why? Does anyone else recall that in A Great Deliverance there is a line where Tommy notices that Barbara had a bit of color in her cheeks and her eyes looks very blue? She looked, for Barbara, nice. Again, poor Barbara. Her claim to family is the little girl who lives with her Dad and now her Mom is back?? Will Barbara ever get a break? The story was too long. A great mystery does not have to be 500 pages. Someone needs to get Ms. George an editor.
on July 15, 2011
I have been a great fan of Elizabeth George, devouring all of her Inspector Lynley books. Still,I couldn't bear to read "What Came before Her" dismayed as I was with Helen's fate. I was very happy to see that she had published a new novel. Well it was full of surprises, but not pleasant ones. Isabelle Ardery is one of the most unpleasant characters around, eliciting no sympathy; she is just repellent. The development of a relationship between her & Lynley was at first baffling & eventually distasteful. Maybe George is trying to make his character "edgier", but it put me off. If Isabelle is to be a continuing character I won't be reading any more of the books
on March 24, 2012
Every author is allowed a few up and downs. Well, at least three in a row has done it for me. There was no point in killing off Insp. Lynley's wife Helen, then trying to explain it (oops) and then writing a novel most boring and very distasteful, etc. No longer will I anxiously await a new release by Elizabeth George. I'm done.
on August 28, 2010
Anyone who sticks it out over a long-running series like the Lynley mysteries develops a relationship with the main characters, almost as if they were real. As such I must comment on my disappointment regarding the direction that the development of Lynley's character has taken recently. I agree with others who said that George's "killing off" of Helen was a terrible mistake. But it happened, and as readers we must accept it and see if the story continues to evolve in a way that makes sense. I find it logical that anyone suffering a loss as profound as Lynley's might go off the deep end in one way or another (in Lynley's case, becoming a homeless bum during his trek through Cornwall). In this book, though, the evolution of Lynley's character really made me angry. Why did George have to manufacture a character as unsavory, as lacking in character, and as repulsive as Isabelle Ardery? The scene where Lynley - shall we say - succumbs to her utter lack of charm made me want to gag. That's how disappointed I was. Towards the end of the book I was encouraged when it appeared that this character was going to be written out of the story; but to my great regret, it appears that she'll be coming back in the next book. Don't know if I will, however.
on January 29, 2011
As another alienated long-time fan of George's novels, I have to wonder at the wisdom of her publisher, editor, agent, or whoever is advising her. I purchased this book on the strength of reviews that said it was an improvement over the last two shambles, but I don't see it. Three issues are especially troubling. First, the loathsome character of Isabelle Ardery, right down to her name -- is there some significance to it sounding like "artery"? Other than bleeding the life out of this book? For this reader, she typifies the worst type of leader -- narcissistic, bullying, condescending, inappropriate, unprofessional, inflexible, not very smart, and in love with her own voice. And chasing mini vodka bottles around the floor did nothing to add to her appeal to my empathy for her. All I ended up with was wanting her booted out and feeling contempt for Lynley's attraction to her. Had the author built a character that had any likable or redeeming qualities, she would have spared Lynley looking like a fool. I shudder to think she might turn up in yet another opus. Second, the very thinly veiled lifting of the Bulger baby murder in England was exploitative and in extremely poor taste. In addition, I also have a serious beef with the lack of understanding and empathy Elizabeth George displays for mental illness. Ardery calling a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic a "nutter" in a meeting of her subordinates is inexcusable and reflects very poorly on Ms. George's obvious lack of understanding and empathy for the horrific ways that mental illness can mess up lives and skew judgment. Very disappointing from a writer I used to enjoy and admire. No wonder PBS has dropped her.
on June 1, 2010
I will not write spoilers here nor will I engage in much plot recapitulation. This lengthy novel *seems* as if it might return to the superb form George established in the late 1980's and throughout the 1990's. The past decade has, however, found her an an impasse with many of her readers, including me. Ultimately this one is a long teaser that has elements to remind us of why we love George and elements of why so many have turned against her recently.
I can understand why George does not want to churn out similar kinds of books: perhaps she is a victim of her own success. Her readers clearly love Havers and Lynley and the rest of the regulars. I know I do. I believe that George wants to do something different. I think she wants to take a significant look at the human psyche and in the previous two books many readers were disappointed.
In this work I sense that she's trying to accommodate her traditional readers--the people who will buy her books in hard-cover when they first appear because they love the characters and the mysteries--at the same time as she's continuing her interest in young children thwarted by poverty and bad parenting. Social services style notes, written in a clinical tone, take advantage of the horrifying James Bulger murder much to my distress.
And some of the characters do not act themselves---I can understand that they might make errors in judgment or succumb to imprudent impulses. I understand that the best and the brightest do not always get promoted and I understand that the world does not wag the way of the unkempt, untidy woman, no matter how clever she is.
But I long for a good, old-fashioned 500 page taut thrilling mystery where we don't need to sort out the psychological ramifications of in-office politics and mourning but rather get to watch the team work through sundry suspects and come up with a superb and surprising finish.
If you are filling the void here, you might want to try Donna Leon's mysteries.
on April 24, 2010
Thomas Lynley is back.
For those of you who are fans of Elizabeth George's long running series about DI Thomas Lynley and Sargeant Barbara Havers, this is going to be very welcome news. For not only does this have Thomas Lynley, he's back where he belongs, in the halls of the Met, tracking down the very slippery clues of this psychological thriller.
In an overgrown cemetery in northern London, the body of a young woman is found, gruesomely murdered and abandoned. Discovering who she was is going to be a difficult task for the Metropolitan Police, as there is not any identification. All they have to go on is that she has eyes that are different colours, one brown, and one blue. Beyond that there is nothing.
It's a tricky case, and it's handed off to Acting Superintendent Isabelle Ardery, a recent transfer to New Scotland Yard, and just a bit prickly. Better make that very prickly, and with one massive chip on her shoulder. On the fast track to the rank of commissioner, and with a working attitude that what she says goes and that she is always right, she's not going to have an easy time of it. Especially with the team that she is handed, namely Winston Nkata, John Stewart, and in particular, Barbara Havers.
All of the detectives are rather resentful, and Isabelle turns to Thomas Lynley, somewhat retired from the Met, and a man with a broken heart, if not spirit. He has returned to London from the wilds of Cornwall, and is still a bit off his bearings. She asks for his help in pulling the team together, and with a bit of pressure from Sir David Hillier, Lynley returns, as a sort of advisor to shepherd Isabelle through the case.
In Hampshire, two people are vitally concerned with the disappearance of Jemima Hastings. One is her brother, Rob, who works in the New Forest, that hunting preserve that William the Conqueror created in the eleventh century, and the other her best friend, Meredith Powell. While Meredith had a bit of a falling out with Jemima, Rob has been able to keep in touch with Jemima by phone when she suddenly left her partner Gordon Dossie, and decamped to London.
Gordon Dossie, master of the ancient art of thatching roofs, is a bit of a loner. And he's happy to be, it seems, with just his dog Tess and an apprentice/helper. It seems that he hasn't missed Jemima much, as there is a new woman in his life, Gina Dickens, a voluptuous blonde who's witty and beautiful to boot. It's something that bothers Meredith a great deal, especially when she pays a visit to Gordon's home and finds that Jemima's car and belongings are still there. Determined to find her friend, Meredith starts her own hunt to find Jemima.
In London, the police finally find that the murdered girl is Jemima, and track down her lodgings. There's a fierce, no-nonsense landlady by the name of Bella McHaggis, the other renters, a psychic who may or may not be the real thing, an ice skating instructor and other suspects, including a mentally ill young violinist who may be the last person to see Jemima alive.
But the fireworks are in the Met offices, where Isabelle's rule is being bitterly resented, not the least by Barbara. Indeed, Ms. Ardery has told Barbara to literally clean up her act and be more professional, and at one point, drives the staff to an out and out brawl in a conference room. Other past characters are here as well, including the St. James, and Charlie Denton in an all-too-brief appearance.
Of course, one of the best things about an Elizabeth George novel is that you get a bit of history and background to the story as well. I was fascinated by the setting of the New Forest, and never knew that there were ponies roaming the forest, and the people who work to maintain the woods and try to keep it intact. Equally interesting was the information about thatched roofs, and the work that it takes to keep them maintained, and that it is a job that requires hands-on training. There's also information about finding buried treasure, photography competitions and the like.
But where Ms. George shines is in how she carefully intertwines the stories of her characters together and the unraveling of those stories to find the truths beneath. With This Body of Death the stories are emotional and believable, and with the stories being centered on Isabelle Ardery as much as they are around Lynley and Havers, it's quite a roller coaster ride throughout the novel. I suspect that there will be more of Isabelle and her rather abrasive style, not to mention her hidden problems. She's a complex character that first appeared in Playing for the Ashes, one of my favourites in the series, and one that made quite an impression and not in a good way either.
But the biggest impact comes with the story that is intertwined and separate from the main narrative. Many will recognize it as being based on a very notorious case in Great Britain some years ago, and one that still rips at me in an unpleasant way. It's chilling and a topic that is certain to make you think about what precisely is justice in our world today.
While it isn't vital that you've read the earlier books in the series, and yes, each novel is a stand-alone, it does help to understand some of the more subtle nuances in play. I do recommend that with this novel you turn the phone off, settle in with your favourite drink of choice, and enjoy. It's a knockout of a novel, and for anyone who enjoys their thrillers to have as much brains as suspense, this will keep you guessing until the end.
Five stars overall, and I would give this more if I could. Highly recommended.