I would like to file a Missing Person’s Report. Name: Inspector Thomas Lynley, 8th Earl of Asherton. Description: Approximately six feet tall, blond hair, dark brown eyes, oozes class, intellect and emotional intelligence and an uncanny ability to read people. Inspires loyalty, desire and trust in equal measure from friends, colleagues and strangers.
For the last three Elizabeth George novels, at least, this Inspector, whom we know and love – the dedicated friend and partner of Sargeant Barbara Havers has absented himself. No, that’s not exactly right either – he’s there, but it’s as if someone else has possessed his body and mind and I want him back! The front cover announces his return – I’m afraid the evidence that this is the case is scarce.
OK. Maybe I’m being unfair, but in the latest Lynley novel, Believing the Lie, George seems to have gone even further post-Helen’s death in re-inventing the grieving widower to a point there’s not much of the old boy left. In a sense, the fact he doesn’t appear until chapter three of this book, well after the main narrative is established (sans Tommy), functions as an analogy for the minor part he plays in this current mystery. In fact, Lynley is practically redundant.
Months have now passed since Helen died and Lynley is embroiled in a steamy affair with his alcoholic and neurotic boss, Superintendent Ardery. Quite apart from the fact that I never understood the attraction he feels for his unreasonable and demanding superior, when Lynley is sent to Cumbria by Hillier as a personal favour in order to investigate the accidental death of a friend’s nephew, he’s told to keep it secret. And he does. Not knowing why or where her lover has gone, and with him refusing to breach confidence, Ardery’s insecurities and unprofessional behaviour come to the fore making her more irritating and consequently Tommy’s attraction and efforts to placate her less plausible.
Taking his friends, Simon and Deborah St James with him, Lynley stumbles into a family full of secrets, lies and betrayals that have little to do with the reason he was brought there in the first place. But when Deborah and a reporter from the London tabloid, The Source, join forces to uncover the mystery of the Fairclough family, you know tragedy is just around the corner. Even if it takes almost six-eighths of the book to arrive.
As usual in George books, the writing is sublime. All the other characters are beautifully and, for the most part, believably drawn. Just as she did in What Came Before He Shot Her, George doesn’t steer away from the brutal reality of many young people’s lives and the choices they make and this story is no exception. Scenes are painted realistically – to the point you can smell the fresh air, hear the crunch of gravel underfoot, and smell the Pop Tart Havers is forever cramming down her throat.
For a novel that roughly sits in the crime genre, however, the main crime here, for me, is the absence of Lynley. As with the other books she’s written of late, the main character fades into the background and secondary characters dominate. Again, this might be all right for some, and the story is interesting, but this is a Lynley book and he simply doesn’t step up and wrest the tale or arrest the reader in ways that he used to. In fact, there is something listless and annoying about Lynley that there never used to be. Sure, he’s grieving for Helen, but that doesn’t mean he suddenly has to become all wishy-washy and turn into something he’s not. I can’t explain it better than that except a Lynley mystery this book wasn’t – and nor was it really a crime novel of the sort we’ve come to expect from George.
But, it was fascinating study of sexuality, familial ties and the psychology of a family unravelling. The climax was more anti than explosive as it’s not difficult to solve the puzzle George has tried to construct well before it’s revealed. That Lynley has a minor role to play in any of the action is at odds with his well-established character as well and is a bit of a let down for fans.
The book finishes with two endings (one of which will come as a relief to some) that set the scene for the next book – one that may yet relegate Lynley to the role of support character again. I sincerely hope not. I hope the Inspector is found, along with his mojo, because the series, as well-written and structured as it is, simply isn’t the same with this watery substitute.
Bring back Inspector Lynley – please!