My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I recently read the first book in this series, A Great Deliverance, and decided to push on with the second one because I was curious to see how the characters developed.
The two main characters, Inspector Lynley and Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, are opposites in many ways - Lynley, the wealthy aristocrat, and Havers, the working class woman who has had to struggle for everything she has and who has a chip on her shoulder for the privileged aristocracy. One thing they share is a commitment to the truth and to solving crime. They are an interesting contrast. I empathize a great deal with Havers's situation, but I can tolerate Lynley, too, and I enjoy the interaction and the grudging respect that have been forged between the two.
This time, the two detectives are dispatched to Scotland to investigate a murder, even though New Scotland Yard really has no legal standing there. The reason for the assignment becomes clear when we learn that a peer-of-the-realm, Lord Stinhurst, is somehow involved in the case and the powers that be in London are anxious to see that he is protected. It is believed that Inspector Thomas Lynley, aka the eighth Earl of Asherton, being an aristocrat himself, is just the chap to handle the assignment. His boss, however, is not entirely on board with the directive from on high to assign Lynley and he sends the antagonistic Havers along to balance things out.
In Scotland, they find a theatrical troupe that had been rehearsing a new play which they planned to debut in London later. Their plans are cut short when the author of the play, Joy Sinclair, is brutally murdered in her bed, an 18-inch dirk driven into her neck.
Lynley learns to his chagrin that the woman that he loves, Lady Helen, is there with the troupe and that she was occupying the room next to the one where the woman was murdered. Moreover, she was not alone in that room; she was there with one of the actors in the troupe and he was present with her when the murder occurred. Lynley's sexual jealousy leads him to conclude prematurely that this man must be the murderer and his prejudice tends to blind him to any evidence to the contrary.
Havers, meanwhile, fixes on the lord as the most likely culprit and her investigation tends to lead her in that direction.
As the investigation unfolds, we learn that all the characters seem to be having or have had affairs with each other, including the various brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, etc. It really is rather confusing. One needs a score card just to keep up. Also, various characters are known by different names and/or titles and that only adds to the bafflement of the reader. I found it to be a bit of a muddle, and this was really my only problem with the book. Other than that, I found the plot and subplots to be engaging and the writing quite good. There were several unexpected twists and the relationships were well-developed.
I found it interesting that, in the end, the modern murders - there is a second one after the investigators arrive - were found to have their roots well into the past, in a tale of espionage, family honor, and suicide/murder. George did a good job of constructing her puzzle and finally showing us the solution. I really did not have a clue who the murderer was until the end.
I continue to be quite enthralled by the character of Barbara Havers and the fact that, against all odds, she has learned to appreciate Thomas Lynley's hard-working and dedicated persona, so different from the public image which many have of him. Likewise, Lynley has learned to appreciate her skills and talent. They make a good team, one that bodes well for future books, of which there are several in this series.
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