The Punishment She Deserves by Elizabeth George

While I have been a huge fan of Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley novels, I confess the last couple haven’t quite captured me in the manner of earlier ones. The reason for this, I believe, has nothing to do with the superb writing or plot which is always of such a high standard. Rather, it was the sense of absence around the primary character and the man we’ve all grown to know and love, Inspector Thomas Lynley, the intrepid Earl himself. I recall writing one review which was akin to Missing Person’s Report, so strongly did I feel he wasn’t present – bodily, yes, but it was as if he’d lost his mojo (understandable to a degree in light of his wife’s tragic death, but it was beyond that) and common sense. Fortunately, Havers was there to compensate and that she did – pop tarts and all.

With this novel The Punishment She Deserves, I was at first worried this was going to be yet another book where the reader was deprived of Lynley. While he hovers in the background for the first third, there is a good reason for that. Havers (who is on her last legs in terms of remaining with New Scotland Yard) and Detective Chief Superintendent Ardery – Lynely’s erstwhile lover and boss as well as an alcoholic – are sent to the small, ancient town of Ludlow to investigate the apparent suicide of an MP’s son – Ian Druitt, the local Deacon – who killed himself in a police cell after his arrest on a charge of paedophilia. Regarding this as a perfect opportunity to wipe his hands of Havers once and for all, the Assistant Commissioner sends Ardery and Havers to Ludlow to insure the investigation into the death of Druitt ticked all boxes, as the MP is grumbling from on high and threatening to bring down all sorts of trouble on the force. Ardery is not only tasked with running the investigation, but seeing to it that Havers fails. Warned by Lynley what’s in store, Havers is careful to toe the line… only, it’s not exactly a line she finds, but a series of curves and ellipses which prick her instincts and tell her all is not as it seems.

When Ardery refuses to listen to Havers’ concerns, going so far as to order her to falsify information, Havers is in a bind. Turning to her boss and partner, what she doesn’t expect is for him to risk his reputation and career on her behalf. Lynley’s actions see him taking over the reins of the investigation and, as a reader, it was lovely to find him – from that moment on – both very much present and accounted for.

Sent back to Ludlow to properly investigate not only that the police involved behaved appropriately, but that the entire inquiry into the death was carried out as it should have been. Moving slowly, Lynley and Havers’ investigation centres on the close-knit town folk, the families associated with the almost saintly Ian Druitt and the tightly held secrets they all guard. Trying to discover what led Ian Druitt, a man recently awarded by the town, to commit suicide proves more difficult than either Lynley or Havers counted on – that is, until they understand the man didn’t kill himself and it appears his murder covered up more than one terrible crime…

Beautifully written, this story unfurls in a steady, nail-biting way. I don’t want to say too much more for fear of spoiling what is an incredible novel about a crime, but also about family and how it can function (or not) in the best and worst of ways, demand of us obligations and sacrifices with so few rewards. How, despite this, we fight for our loved ones, those who share our blood, for perhaps what this promises rather than the reality. All the characters are so richly drawn that while some of their actions and reasons for them are perplexing and frustrating, you champion and/or see the root of their decisions, even if they inevitably lead to disaster. You also learn the motivation behind the lies, deceptions and oft-misplaced loyalties of family, colleagues, friends, neighbours. There were times I wondered why George spent so much time unravelling a particular family dynamic or a friendship until, as the book progressed and the plot thickened and twisted and turned inside out, I began to not only understand, but become engrossed/horrified/gratified in the ties that bind, blind and seek us to make good or poor decisions as well as deadly ones.

What I really enjoyed about this novel as well (apart from seeing Lynley and Havers together and in such fine form again), was exploring what makes Isabelle Ardery tick. I have found her character such a struggle in the past. I never understood Lynley’s attraction to her and what ultimately drew him to sleep with her, nor the respect and position of authority she was given – her rank didn’t fit the persona we were presented with. I thought after the last book we were well rid of her and was grateful. This isn’t the case. Yet, Ardery’s incentives, her demons, her personal life are all explored and given depth and insights that make you not necessarily like the woman (she is her own worst enemy in that regard and hey, she has it in for Havers and no-one but no-one is allowed to give Barbara an undeserved hard time), but come to understand and even, dare I say, empathise with her and the stupid, reckless decisions she’s made and continues to make as well. George is a master when it comes to untangling the seamier side of human nature, exploring the darkness within and how we’re slaves to this even while we try to resist. She’s proven this over and over in her books and this one is no exception.

A rather long book, I nevertheless didn’t want it to end. Masterful, compelling, tightly and expertly plotted with bursts of humour, all expressed with exquisite prose, this is George at her best – Lynley and Havers too. My only disappointment is that I know I will have a long wait until the next one!

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A Banquet of Consequences by Elizabeth George

Having adored the Inspector Lynley series since I first stumbled upon it years ago, and always enjoying the beauty and detail of George’s sublime writing, I’d found a few of the more recent Lynley books a little disappointing in terms of the main character, so much so, in one of my reviews I actually filed a Missing Persons Report on the Eighth Earl of Asherton, one Inspector Thomas Lynley.

22571556When I picked up this nineteenth instalment in the series, A Banquet of Consequences, I first though, oh no! Tommy and Barbara Havers, his prickly side-kick with a propensity for pop tarts and trakky daks, have gone AWOL. So much so, they don’t really appear, except in some readily forgettable scenes till almost a third of the way through the book. Having said that, the narrative that commences the book, a tale of many threads that take a while to join and then unravel, is engrossing. It’s so good, in fact, that Havers and Lynely feel like intrusions or even unnecessary – goodness! Did I write that? Yet, before long, Lynley and Havers step up and become an intrinsic part of this fascinating tale of families, love, loss, huge dysfunction and a betrayal of trust like no other.

So, while I almost gave up on the book early, believing that George had abandoned her dynamic duo in favour of another story, relegating them to almost laughable secondary roles as Havers undergoes an attempted make-over to please her irrational and demanding boss and presage a return to form, and Lynley languishes in love, I am so glad I didn’t. George doesn’t let the reader or fans of Thomas Lynely and Barbara Havers down. Though they don’t burst onto the scene until well into the book, with her accustomed mastery, George allows us peeps of them while introducing the reader to a multitude of complex, rich and deep characters, from a feminist scholar and author, Clare Abbott, to her anxiety-ridden publisher, a young man, Will, suffering from Tourettes Syndrome and crippling doubts, and his heavily tattooed and pierced girlfriend, Lily. There’s Will’s psychologist brother, Charlie, and his unhappy wife, India, and the pushy, narcissistic mother of the two men, Caroline, who is married to the down to earth baker, Alistair – just to name a few.

At first, you think, what have these people to do with anything? Then, a tragedy occurs and you find yourself thinking, that’s simply awful but what role does it play in this mystery, especially when there seems to be no mystery and no relationship between all these characters in the unfolding tale? Please explain!

Well, explain George does… and how.

It turns out the least likeable and most magnificently drawn of these characters, the hugely disordered Caroline, is the bridge uniting what at first appears to be two disparate groups of people as Caroline works for Clare Abbott. Authoritarian and prone to organising those who don’t wish to be, Caroline is an unpleasant and entirely selfish force to be reckoned with, something Barbara Havers experiences first hand.

When a death occurs that on the surface appears like suicide but upon further investigation turns out to be murder, Havers is contacted by one fot he characters for her help. Begging Lynley to intervene with Superintendent Isabelle Ardery (who, unfortunately, is still at the helm of the Met) and grant her the case, Havers has her wishes (against great odds) fuflilled. Sent to a small town, Havers, along with Winston Nkata, begins to examine the lives of all these people to whom the reader has already been introduced, uncovering a hotbed of secrets, lies, deceptions and betrayals. Relying on her boss, Lynley, in London to pursue other leads, when another person involved with the case is almost killed, both Havers and Lynley uncover more than they ever bargained for…

I don’t want to give away any of this plot as it is a cracker. The characters are amazingly well drawn, so much so, I can forgive George the faffing around at the beginning with Havers and Dorothea (which almost had me putting down the book) and the fact the lead roles, Tommy and Barb don’t really take centre stage for pages and pages.

This is a terrific crime novel and a great story, full of twists, turns, excellent writing, forensic but fascinating (in the real sense of the word – unable to turn away from because it is both awful and thrilling) exploration of families – the roles each member plays, the masks they wear, how behaviours impact upon others, how we bury truths and live lies.

The conclusion is so horrendous and though you see it coming in some senses, you do not want it to arrive. It’s like watching a crash you cannot stop or change, you just have to witness the impact, but already know the damage that’s been done.

It’s not only the characters about whom the crime revolves who are wonderfully crafted, Tommy and Barb as well as Winston are also fully rounded and eminently satisfying to read and champion. Though Tommy still grieves and is forever changed by the terrible loss he’s suffered, he is sharp, kind and loyal – the old Inspector hewn afresh; a little careworn and vulnerable, but no less noble in every sense of the word. And Barb, well she too has been hurt and yet gained from the experiences she endured in the last novel (which was wonderful). Ardery, however, is an unreasonable and quite vindictive woman whom I hope George transfers soon. She is predictable as well – which makes her boring. Just like Haver’s career, this series does not need her.

Overall, a fabulous and gripping read I found hard to put down.

 

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Book Review: Believing the Lie, Elizabeth George

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!

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