Review 2014: Something to Hide

Tani Bankole, a teenage boy of NIgerian descent, believes that his father, Abeola, has arranged a marriage for Simi, his eight-year-old sister. He begins making preparations to flee with her, because his mother, Monifa, seems totally subservient. Soon, though, he is horrified to realize that Simi is being prepared for female circumcision to “cleanse” her in preparation for marriage.

DS Teo Bontempi is found unconscious on the floor of her apartment after being bashed on the head and dies later in the hospital. When DCI Lynley and his team begin investigating, they find that her boss, DCI Mark Phinney, had her transferred shortly before, out of a project she loved, trying to shut down female genital mutilation in London. Phinney reports that she tended to do too much on her own instead of working with the team. But it soon comes out that he was having an affair with her. Phinney’s wife Pete is wholly subsumed with caring for their severely disabled daughter and is so afraid of having another child that she refuses sex, encouraging Phinney to look elsewhere. Only Phinney had fallen in love with Teo.

Teo also had a husband, although they were separated, who wanted to get back with her. He, Ross Carver, discovered her injured but acceded to her request to help her to bed instead of calling an ambulance. Teo’s sister Rose has her eye on Ross and has become pregnant by him during the separation.

These are the immediate suspects in the murder, but suspense is added when Tani flees with his sister from their abusive father.

Although as usual Linley is having romantic problems, this series continues to be really good. George takes her time getting to the crime, but the preceding background is necessary and interesting. Although the series went astray for several books after Linley’s wife Helen’s death, it has improved again with the last few books and is getting even better. We find out more about DS Winston Nkata’s home life in this one, too.

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Review 1309: The Punishment She Deserves

Cover for The Punishment She DeservesWho is meant by the “she” in the title of The Punishment She Deserves is ambiguous at first. The word may refer to Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, whose superiors, because of her behavior during her previous case, send her on the present case hoping she will mess up so they can transfer her. It may refer to her boss, Isabelle Ardery, whose drinking problem is seriously affecting her life and work. Perhaps it refers to one of the two controlling mothers Barbara and Isabelle encounter in their investigation. Or perhaps someone else.

Isabelle and Barbara are dispatched to look into an investigation of death in custody to see if it was performed correctly. The death in question is the apparent suicide of Ian Druitt, a clergyman who had been arrested after charges of paedophilia. Ludlow’s PCSO Gary Ruddock was dispatched to bring Druitt in to an unmanned station to wait for officers to pick him up for questioning. While Ruddock was making some phone calls, Druitt apparently hanged himself using his stole and a doorknob.

Barbara’s reaction is to investigate whether the death was indeed a suicide, but Ardery tells her their remit is only to determine whether the subsequent investigation was handled correctly. Nevertheless, Barbara uncovers a disturbing fact beyond the one that the allegation against Druitt was made by anonymous phone call. There was a gap of 19 days between the allegation and the order for the arrest, which was said to be urgent.

Barbara includes this fact in the report she writes about the investigation, but Ardery orders her to remove the information because of political reasons. Troubled, Barbara asks Inspector Lynley’s advice. He tells her to leave out the information if she wants to keep her job, but he takes the unedited report and sends it above their boss’s head. The resulting explosion ends with Ardery called on the carpet and Lynley and Havers on their way to Ludlow to investigate thoroughly.

Soon, Lynley and Havers have reason to believe that Druitt’s death was not a suicide. But believing that and proving it or finding the murderer are different things.

This novel finally shows Elizabeth George going back to form, concentrating more on the mystery than on the characters’ private lives and having her protagonists behave more like cops than they have in several of the previous novels. Although the private lives of Lynley and Havers were initially what made this series so interesting, I’ve felt that George has gotten too melodramatic with these plots in the last few books. So, it’s a relief having Barbara worry about tap-dancing class and Lynley concerned about how his relationship with his not very interesting girlfriend is going, but nothing more dramatic.

This mystery is complicated, interesting, and difficult to guess. It involves characters you come to care about. I really enjoyed it. I’m glad about this, because I’ve wondered whether I wanted to continue reading this series, and now I’m looking forward to the next one.

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Day 863: A Banquet of Consequences

Cover for A Banquet of ConsequencesDetective Sergeant Barbara Havers is in a lot of trouble with Superintendent Ardery since she nearly went off the rails in the previous Detective Lynley novel. So, Ardery is having Inspector Lynley keep her on a short leash. But Lynley thinks the leash is too short, because Barbara is tamping down everything, including her contributions to investigations. Finally, she is contacted about a case that Lynley thinks she can take charge of herself.

But the novel begins three years earlier. William Goldacre has been trying to reconcile with his girlfriend, Lily Foster. William has a condition that causes him to utter nonsense words and profanity when under stress. But Lily’s problem with him is the relationship he has with his family. William and Lily go on a camping trip, but Will commits suicide when he finds Lily reading his journal, and Lily is horrified about what she reads there.

In the present, Barbara encounters Caroline Goldacre, William’s mother, when she attends a talk by feminist Clare Abbott. Clare gives Barbara her card because she is interested in Barbara’s t-shirt, but Caroline, who is Clare’s assistant, takes it upon herself to ask for the card back. Rory Stratham, Clare’s agent and good friend, gives Barbara another card.

A few days later, Rory contacts Barbara to tell her that Clare was found dead in her hotel room. Although the death is considered natural, Rory finds it high suspicious. She also suspects someone, Caroline Goldacre, whose relationship with her employer seemed unusual at best.

When Barbara performs an initial investigation, she finds hotel staff who overheard Caroline and Clare arguing. An autopsy reveals that Clare was poisoned. Before Barbara can tell Rory, Rory herself has been poisoned, although she is not dead. Lynley dispatches Barbara and Sergeant Winston Nkata to Shaftsbury to investigate. Ardery’s orders are for Winston not to let Barbara out of his sight.

The evidence seems to point to Caroline Goldacre until the detectives find out that Clare borrowed Caroline’s toothpaste and that was the source of the poison for both women. But was someone trying to murder Caroline, or is Caroline simply a clever murderer who made it look that way? Caroline herself is manipulative and nasty to just about everyone.

I have been distressed by how melodramatic George’s series has been the past few books, basically since the death of Lynley’s wife. Although the Detective Lynley series is one of the few that has recurring characters who are as interesting as the mysteries, the last few years they have been behaving atypically. This book is the first in a while that seems back on track. The personal plots involve Lynley’s relationship with his current girlfriend and an amusing plan of Dorothea Harriman’s to spiff Barbara up and find her a boyfriend. I very much enjoyed this novel and feel that it is returning to the strong series it was when I first discovered it.

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Day 495: Just One Evil Act

Cover for Just One Evil ActI can chart my changing attitude toward Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley mystery/thrillers simply by how I treat the new books. I used to get them as soon as they were available and read them immediately. This one I had for a couple of months before reading it. They are still page turners, don’t misunderstand me, but George has put her characters, and fans, through a lot.

George is not a proponent of the idea of keeping her characters’ private lives out of her mystery novels—very much the opposite. At first their absorbing lives made these novels stand out. But by now she has put Lynley through a brother accused of murder, a fiancée marrying his best friend, a seemingly hopeless romance, a murdered wife, and an ill-judged affair with his alcoholic boss. Heretofore, Sergeant Barbara Havers, although sometimes rebellious and unruly, has been a rock of good judgment, often better at finding the criminal than Lynley is. So, now it’s her turn to go off the deep end.

At the end of the previous novel, Believing the Lie, Barbara’s neighbor Taymullah Azhar had his sweet young daughter Hadiyyah kidnapped by the girl’s mother Angelina, who returned to Azhar pretending a reconciliation in order to get an opportunity to take the child. The situation is complicated because the parents never married and Azhar’s name is not on Hadiyyah’s birth certification, so for now he has no legal right to her (although, if that is so, since Angelina abandoned them, British law must be really weird). In addition, he has no idea where they have gone.

The Met can’t apparently help him, so Barbara takes Azhar to a private investigator, Dwayne Doughty, and they hire him to find Angelina and Hadiyyah. Eventually, though, Doughty reports back that there is no trace of the two to be found.

The tables turn quickly, though, when Angelina returns with her lover Lorenzo Mura, claiming that Hadiyyah has been kidnapped from them, so Azhar must have taken her. When it appears that Azhar is just as alarmed as Angelina and that he has an alibi for the time of the kidnapping, they all return to Lucca, Italy, where Angelina and Mura have been living. Inspector Lynley is assigned to go along as liaison between the parents and the Italian police. Isabelle Ardery, the boss, refuses to let Barbara come along.

Barbara absolutely refuses to believe that Azhar has had anything to do with the kidnapping. She has already given information to a tabloid journalist to create enough furor in Britain about the kidnapping for someone to be assigned to the case, and that liaison with Mitchell Corsico is not only a breach of trust but a major source of drama—and irritation—for the rest of the novel. The novel ends with Corsico assuming Barbara is in his debt. I certainly hope George doesn’t plan to pursue that subplot, because I found it to be too far over the top, with the journalist demanding more disclosures about every 15 minutes (an exaggeration, admittedly) and always when Barbara urgently needs to be doing something else.

Unfortunately for Barbara, as she breaks all the rules set by her new boss, John Stewart, to investigate the case from her end, it begins to look as though Azhar did indeed plan the kidnapping and execute it with the help of some of Doughty’s contacts in Italy. We readers actually know where Hadiyyah is, although we don’t know the identity of her kidnapper. But we also soon learn that her kidnapper has died, leaving Lynley and the excellent Italian detective Salvatore Lo Bianco to figure out who he was and where he put the child. Lo Bianco’s efforts are hindered by the actions of his incompetent boss.

In the midst of all this, Angelina dies, and it becomes obvious that she was murdered. Soon, it looks as though Azhar could be implicated in that, too.

My problem with this novel is Barbara’s behavior, as she goes overboard to protect Azhar. First, there are the leaks to Corsico which, after the first one, seem totally unnecessary. Then she begins concealing and attempting to alter evidence. I won’t go on. Even worse is how this trouble is wrapped up at the end of the novel, either by a cheat or a completely unlikely act on the part of Ardery.

You can tell I had a mixed reaction to this novel. On the one hand, it is extremely gripping. On the other hand, especially if you have been following the series and care about Barbara, you occasionally want to throw the book across the room. For the last four or five books, I’ve been wondering whether to quit the series, but I always end up picking up the next one.

Finally, I was upset by how the novel ends for Azhar and Hadiyyah, who for a large part of the series have been two of the most likable characters.

Day 263: A Great Deliverance

Cover for A Great DeliveranceAlthough Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley series seems to be floundering with the past few books, the first dozen or so were really good. A Great Deliverance is the first one in the series.

Father Hart comes to Scotland Yard to ask for help. Roberta Teys, the daughter of a farmer, has been found in the barn next to the bodies of her father and the family dog, both of whom have been attacked with an ax. Father Hart begs for someone to investigate the apparently open-and-shut case, as Roberta has confessed to the crime and now refuses to speak. Father Hart says he believes the girl, who seems to be mentally handicapped, is innocent. Barely registering in the background, someone is killing men on the subway.

Inspector Thomas Lynley is given the Teys case, and he has just been assigned Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers as his partner. Havers is a belligerent, untidy working-class woman who is being given a final chance, since she has failed to work well with other supervisors. She believes that the immaculate Lynley, the eighth Earl of Asherton, is nothing but an upper-class fashion plate, playboy, and womanizer.

Lynley is dealing with his own problems, because the woman he loves is about to marry his best friend, Simon St. James. He also bears guilt because St. James is crippled from an auto accident in which Lynley was driving. Lynley is actually relieved to be called away from the wedding reception to deal with the murder investigation.

Lynley thinks the roots of this murder may be in the past. Roberta’s mother disappeared when she was a child. Was she actually murdered? Roberta’s older sister also ran away from home. What happened to her?

This novel and the first books of this series perfectly meet my taste for mystery novels that are on the dark side. I find Lynley and Havers to be engaging, with fully developed personalities. The novels are complex and the plots exciting. I have not tired of the incidental characters, as I often do. I am just sorry that the more recent novels have taken some turns I do not find appealing or interesting, since for so many years, I could rely on an Elizabeth George mystery to be a great read.

Day 47: Believing the Lie

Cover for Believing the LieI have been a fan of Elizabeth George’s Detective Inspector Lynley and Detective Sergeant Havers series ever since I read A Great Deliverance, the first one. However, it seems to have gone astray ever since George killed off Lynley’s wife three or four books ago, and I came close to not picking up this one. With Believing the Lie, however, George is slowly returning to form. (Just as a side note, those of you who think you know the series from Masterpiece Mystery are sadly mistaken. I was thrilled to hear they were doing the series but really upset at how they combined books, changed endings to ones that were less effective, and so on.)

Lynley is asked by Assistant Commissioner (and slimy politician) David Hilliard to do him a favor and investigate whether a wealthy industrialist’s nephew died in an accident or was murdered. Of course, a lot is going on with the Fairclough family below the surface.

Since the investigation is unofficial, Lynley takes along his friends Simon and Deborah St. James, who are recurring characters in the series. Simon St. James is a forensic scientist of some note and Deborah is a world-class photographer. Although the nephew’s death has been ruled an accidental drowning, Simon finds some evidence to suggest otherwise.

In investigating Fairclough’s son Nicholas, Deborah becomes involved with his beautiful Argentinian wife, with whom she feels a sympathetic connection, while Lynley and Simon investigate the rest of the family. As family secrets are revealed, things begin to fall apart.

Meanwhile back at home, Havers gets more involved with her neighbor’s family. She has long cared about the little girl next door, Hadiyyah, and her handsome father Taymullah Azhar. Now Azhar’s estranged partner, Angela Upman, has returned to the family. Barbara wants to dislike her because of the pain she has caused her family, but Angela is nice and helps her improve her professional appearance, as she has been ordered to do by her new boss. However, Barbara thinks that something is going on.

I think what makes George’s books outstanding are her writing skills and her ability to create convincing characters. I have said before that I have dropped many series mystery novels, principally because I get tired of the secondary characters, who keep doing the same things over and over. George does a nice job of developing even the minor characters and making them interesting, instead of just using them as plot devices.

That being said, George seems determined to thrust Lynley into a series of romantic disasters. Maybe she should be following a dictum I have heard attributed to P. D. James that it’s not a good idea to mix the romance and detective genres. In the first book, Lynley was madly in love with Deborah as she was marrying Simon. In the second book, he suddenly realized he loved his old friend Helen. Then he spent several books chasing Helen, whom we all loved, and was happily married for one or two books until she was murdered. Since the last book he has been stupidly pursuing an affair with his alcoholic boss. As I said before, I think killing Helen was a big mistake, and judging from some of the comments on Amazon, others agree.

One more caveat to this book. Deborah is starting to have the secondary character problem I described above. She is so obsessed by her conception problems that she thinks she understands Bernard’s wife based upon finding one copy of a brochure in the house. Because she thinks she knows what’s going on, she ignores all evidence that things may not be as she thinks. This misunderstanding has tragic consequences. Deborah has been obsessing over her inability to have a child since the third or fourth book in a long series. I wish George would have her adopt a child and get it over with.