Catching up with Elizabeth's George detective series

>> Saturday, August 25, 2018

Many years ago I read several in Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley series. This was back in Uruguay pre-ebooks, so I picked them up as I found them in the few bookshops that sold books in English. Obviously, I did not read them in order, which made figuring out the tangled love lives of Lynley and his friends a bit of a challenge.

Last year I decided to start from the beginning and read my way through the series, this time in order. I started with A Great Deliverance, and although dated in some ways, it held up really well. Short reviews here of the following books, none of which I remember reading back then.

TITLE: Payment in Blood
AUTHOR: Elizabeth George

It's a snowy winter in the Scottish Highlands. In a stately home that is now a hotel, a group of theatrical types have gathered to sort out the details of an upcoming play. And then one of them, the playwright, is murdered (stabbed with a dirk, to make it geographically appropriate). Although Scotland Yard has zero jurisdiction there, Lynley is sent round to investigate, on the premise that because a peer is involved, this can't properly be handled by just regular police. Lynley, not happy with the whole "only an aristocrat can investigate this" nonsense, insists in bringing Havers with him -knowing full well that Havers is more, not less likely to look hard at any aristos.

I enjoyed this one. The mystery is neat (I do love a country house mystery), and there are plenty of secrets in the incestuous world the characters inhabit. I loved Havers' refusal to play along with the histrionics. She does all the heavy lifting here, because Lynley is really not at his best. Turns out one of the guests is Lady Helen Clyde, and she's there with a man. Suddenly Lynley is extremely jealous, so much so that he can barely do his job properly. It seemed a bit too dramatic on his part, to be honest, but eh, well. On the whole, this one worked quite nicely.

MY GRADE: This was a B.

TITLE: Well-Schooled in Murder
AUTHOR: Elizabeth George

The third book in the series represents a change in tone. Whereas Payment in Blood was almost gleeful, this is much more tragic and serious. A 13-year-old boy has gone missing from his boarding school. Again, not quite in Lynley's jurisdiction, but the boy's housemaster is a former school friend, so he's asked to help.

The mystery is quite good, if very sad. There are plenty of secrets to be found out in the school, and as soon as Lynley and Havers begin their digging, they start to pop out. The resolution was unexpected, and it felt very satisfying.

I just wish George had cut the sections with Deborah St. James way, way down. Quick reminder: Deborah used to be engaged to Lynley, but she married one of his best friends, Simon St. James (who is disabled, due to a car accident that, to make things even more complex, occurred when Lynley was driving). Deborah and Simon are travelling around on a sort of honeymoon (and happen to be in the area long enough to discover a body). She basically mopes around for the whole book, in what's basically a very heavy-handed anti-abortion screed. I wanted to shake her.

MY GRADE: A B-. But it would be a bit higher for the mystery alone.

TITLE: A Suitable Vengeance
AUTHOR: Elizabeth George

A Suitable Vengeance is next in the series in order of publication, but it actually takes place some years before the rest of the series. Lynley is back at the family estate to introduce his fiancé to his mother, and in the midst of much drama, a journalist gets killed.

I tried and tried, but really could not get into it. The first sections are almost entirely about supposed adults moping around like emo teenagers, and it was extremely annoying. These people clearly do not want to be happy (Simon St. James, I'm particularly looking at you). There's also an element of creepiness in Simon's obsession with Deborah. Deborah is the daughter of his manservant, Cotter, and she grew up in his house. Simon is 11 years older than her, and to be honest, it felt a bit as if he'd been grooming her as she grew up. Pretty disturbing.

That, plus the knowledge that the book is supposed to be set almost entirely in George's cringey, forelock-tugging interpretation of the world of English aristocracy, put me off. Plus, this takes place before Lynley met Havers, so I couldn't even look forward to her coming in and pricking these people's self-importance (reading the reviews on goodreads I see that she does show up at some point, but not for long).

I'm hoping this one is not necessary to continue reading the series (well, I'm pretty sure it isn't, since I enjoyed the later books just fine when I first read them).

MY GRADE: This was a DNF.


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