My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As an avid reader of mystery series, why have I never picked up one of Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley books? After all, she's one of the most successful mystery writers now on the scene. I've finally remedied my oversight by reading the first book in the series and the writer's first novel, A Great Deliverance. I won't wait so long to peruse the second book in the series, because this was a terrific read.
Here are a few of the things that I liked about the book:
The setting. Yorkshire, with its gray, windy moors and small, insular villages is a dark and mysterious place all on its own. Here, George takes us to the little village of Keldale where a local respected farmer has been found decapitated in his barn, his dead body slumped over the also dead body of his old dog whose throat had been slit. Most shockingly, his daughter is seated on an upturned bucket nearby with an axe on her lap. She says, "I did it. And I'm not sorry." Okay, end of mystery, right? No! It is only the beginning.
The development of character. The two main characters are Inspector Thomas Lynley, who is also a member of the aristocracy as the eighth earl of Asherton, and Sergeant Barbara Havers, who is definitely blue collar and it's not just the color of her uniform. She was raised and still lives in poverty with her parents.
I was fascinated with the way that George chose to reveal these characters to us. She essentially shows us both through the eyes of Sgt. Havers who is an embittered and unhappy woman. Havers has just been demoted from detective back to a uniform policewoman because she is so irascible and ill-tempered that she is unable to work with any of the inspectors. Then the head of a Scotland Yard unit gives her a second chance. He picks her to work with Inspector Lynley on the decapitation case. Havers is both elated and appalled. Appalled because it's Lynley. She hates Lynley! She sees him as an upper class twit, a fop, and, moreover, a relentless womanizer who seduces every attractive woman he meets. Which means that Havers is perfectly safe because her image of her own body (like that of so many women who have been taught to be self-loathers) is that she is ugly, pig-like even, a perennial loser. Donald Trump would have a field day mocking her.
The problem with Havers' perception of Lynley's personality is that it is her own projection. His reputation as being a carefree sex machine is more than a little overblown. As we eventually learn, he has actually been celibate for the past year since breaking off his engagement with the woman he loved. The woman he still loves. The woman who has just married one of Lynley's best friends, a man about whom he feels enormous guilt because his friend was crippled as a result of an auto accident when Lynley was driving. In fact, we learn through Lynley's actions that he is actually a caring and sensitive man and a detective who is passionate about his job. But will Havers ever be able to see that?
Plot surprises. George plays fair. She sprinkles her clues throughout and the eagle-eyed reader may certainly suspect what is at the bottom of the secrets and mysteries that are buried in the village of Keldale. Still the denouement is pretty devastating as all the secrets are finally revealed.
Language. The writer is able to weave in literary and historical elements into her story. Her use of Shakespearean allusions seemed particularly apt. But I was especially pleased with some of the $25 words used by George, words that I was unfamiliar with and had to ask my Kindle to define. Such a joy to learn new-to-me words, although most often the words themselves were quite old.
Relationships. I found the development of the prickly relationship between Lynley and Havers fascinating to watch. These are two very damaged people. One can hope that the strengths of one will offset the weaknesses of the other. That's what their boss at Scotland Yard saw and what he is hoping for.
There are other important relationships that play a role in the plot. For example, the ones between that dead farmer and his two daughters and the wife who left long ago, as well as his relationships in the community. Other tangential relationships are sketched by George with a minimum of words that are nevertheless cogent and well-chosen and give the reader a clear picture of the situation.
By the way, was that impish nine-year-old girl with her pet duck an homage to Martha Grimes? I choose to think so!
All in all, I found this to be a remarkable first novel by a talented writer, and I look forward to reading more about Lynley and Havers.
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