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Book Review: This Body of Death, Elizabeth George

I have long been a huge fan of Elizabeth George’s Lynley books. They are all intricately and carefully plotted, the characters consistently portrayed (as are their complex relationships) and a sense of place: whether the slums of London or the British countryside, are beautifully rendered. This novel, the 16th in the series, mostly meets the high expectations that George’s readers have of her work.

Set a few months after tragedy shatters DI Lynley’s world, it opens, strangely but compellingly, with a psychologist’s report on a child offender. At first, I found this rather disconcerting but then, I was drawn into the scene being set and the dysfunction being unfolded and which worked to create a rich and multi-layered context. After what turns out to be a harrowing introduction, the novel then moves to the brutal murder of a young woman in London – in a cemetery. While the rest of the initial report (which turns out to involve three child offenders and the most heinous and awful of crimes) is interspersed throughout the novel, it’s not till late in the tale that it finally collides with the main case. This is a credit to George’s skills, as a growing sense of dread and impossibility surrounds the reading of both the report and narrative and the making of connections. 

The usual characters reappear: Lynley returns to the Met, Havers and Nkata are there and the unflappable Dorothy. There’s the Assistant Commissioner and the rest of the team as well as Haver’s lovely neighbours. But it’s the introduction of a new character, Isabelle Ardery that, for me at least, did not capture the veracity of the others. There’s something implausible about her, her issues and Lynley’s eventual attraction to her. I felt suspicious and overly-cautious around her, a bit like Havers and this was probably deliberate and very clever on George’s part. What I felt wasn’t so clever, was the two-dimensional aspect to her personality and the repetition of Ardery’s habits – they were over-written and in the end, overplayed. As a new character, I hope she is developed more and given the depths hinted at and what Lynley, one imagines, senses within her.

Once more, the plot, with all it’s marvelous twists and turns is remarkable. So is the way in which the peripheral characters are drawn: especially those with dark and terrible pasts. The plot didn’t just thicken, it became a deadly marsh with multiple paths from which we were forced to stray and at our peril.

Overall, a very good addition to the Lynley canon. Can’t wait for the next one.

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