I 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.