I was so excited when this book came out, I dropped all others I was either reading or about to in order to lose myself in the world of Inspector Thomas Lynley and his partner in crime, Sergeant Barbara Havers. And what a wonderful world it is – fraught with danger, beauty, secrets, betrayals, threats and promises – and this time against a magnificent and frustrating Italian backdrop.
After being ever so slightly disappointed in the portrayal of the grieving Inspector Lynley in the last couple of books, it was nice to have the sleuthing Earl return to form… but, just when George brings Tommy back, Havers goes off the rails and behaves in a manner that seems out of character to the fiercely loyal, street-wise and committed detective we’ve grown to know and love.
The explanation for Haver’s erratic behaviour is quickly established. It’s due to the disappearance of her neighbour’s daughter, Hadiyyah, a child Barbara adores (and whose father she clearly harbours deep feelings for). Watching Hadiyyah’s father, Taymullah, grieve for the loss of his child breaks Haver’s heart and she does all in her power (and beyond) to help him track her whereabouts, including hiring a private detective and putting her own job under threat (nothing new there).
Never one to worry about compromising her work or other’s opinions of her in a professional sense, when Hadiyyah is eventually located with her mother, Angelina, in Lucca, Italy, but is then kidnapped from the mercato, Haver’s common sense and uncanny ability to sum up a situation and work within it, vanishes. It’s not her desperation to help Taymullah at all costs, or that she makes some silly decisions that irks, it’s the fact that she not only puts her trust in someone who clearly demonstrates they are less than worthy, but that she also fails to share important information and confidences with her partner Lynley that somehow doesn’t ring true…not after all they’ve been through together.
But I am being pernickety.
For it’s due to Havers impulsive behaviour that New Scotland Yard is put on the case of the English child missing in Italy. Instead of being the one chosen to go to Italy and thus to Taymullah Azhar’s aid to help find his daughter and deal with the Italian authorities, much to Haver’s chagrin, Inspector Lynely is sent in her stead.
Once in Lucca, Lynley deals with the Italian law with aplomb. Not only is he fluent in the language, he is masterful at putting people at ease and being able to ferret out the facts. While on the surface, it appears as if Hadiyyah’s kidnapping is the result of a shady deal gone wrong, Lynley, and his wonderful Italian counterpart, the beautifully drawn Inspector Savatore lo Bianco, soon discover that the culprit is much closer than they think.
Like the twisting, narrow roads that bisect and wind around Lucca, so too, the plot turns and angles, and more and more people are drawn into the web being woven around the missing child. Secondary characters enter and exit, their personalities rich, seedy, daring and passionate – like the place in which they live. But nothing is simply black and white. In fact, most often even seemingly honest and respectable characters are cast in unfavourable lights, shadows, showing the depths to which even decent folk will stoop in the name of love, family and honour.
Distraught and angry at being left in London, Haver’s soon turns her fury into purpose but, as she closes in on the truth, her job and reputation don’t only go on the line, but look set to be destroyed once and for all.
I really enjoyed this book and found it very hard to put down. Even the out of character behaviour of Havers, as far-fetched as it sometimes seems (and you have to read the book to understand) made sense within the narrative, albeit with a big suspension of disbelief.
And, while I revelled in the evocation of Italy and Italians, I wondered how non-native speakers or anyone with no Italian language would find reading the book as it is liberally peppered with Italian words, phrases and even conversation. I can speak it quite well and found it distracting and, at times, the amount of it unnecessary. There isn’t always a translation offered either and I imagine that would be very frustrating if not off-putting as sometimes a key description is hinted at and various character traits are revealed with just a word or two of Italian. Without an English equivalent, some readers would lose the benefit of that additional piece of prose or subtle clue and fleshing out of individuals. Nonetheless, like all George’s books, the prose is beautiful, the dialogue crisp when it needs to be, languorous as well – just a wonderful read.
This is definitely a return to form for Lynley. Though, I did wonder at the end how the mess Havers created would be resolved. The denouement is surprising, even if it does have someone else acting in a way that a reader would not have anticipated – but in this instance, it’s a very pleasant surprise.
Bring on the next Lynley – please!