New Inspector Lynley novel by Elizabeth George is impossible to put down
Spoiler alert: This review contains spoilers about the author's previous novels.
Believing the Lie
I am a died-in-the-wool, absolutely hooked, totally smitten Elizabeth George fan. Ever since I read and inhaled her wonderful first novel, A Great Deliverance, I haven't looked back. Until...
And every Elizabeth George fan knows what I am talking about. Until she took her main character, Inspector Lynley, on the dark path of losing his wife and unborn child in With No One as Witness. The following three books were either really difficult and hard to take (What Came Before He Shot Her) or else just not quite up to par.
Unlike some of her readers, I actually thought What Came Before He Shot Her was a wonderful book, it was just very, very painful. With this latest book, George seems to be again embracing those elements that made her career - a wealthy, dysfunctional family; an interesting setting; Lynley somewhat recovered from grief and therefore functional; and Barbara Havers getting a new hair cut on the orders of her new boss (this completes a makeover begun in the last book). Also making a return are Simon St. James and his wife Deborah. It’s nice to find the old team back in place.
And the storytelling, in this book, doesn’t let up or let go. I finished this six hundred plus page book in just four days. The new book is set in the Lake District, with it’s treacherous landscape and beautiful views of Lake Windermere. Front and center are the apparently functional Fairclough family, who have asked that Lynley investigate the recent drowning death of their nephew, Ian, on the quiet. Lynley’s highest up boss makes the request and he can hardly refuse, so, leaving Havers back in London (big sigh) he instead sets off with St. James (a forensic expert) and Deborah as back up.
George has a few themes she touches on in this book, but the two front and center ones are addiction and infertility. The Fairclough’s ne'er-do-well son, Nicholas, has returned to the fold after a long battle with drug addiction. He’s sober, married, and helping other addicts with a project on the grounds of his parents' estate. His parents, Bernard and Valerie, own a large and well known plumbing fixture firm.
Also working for the firm are Bernard’s daughter Manette, and her ex husband, Freddie; and living on the estate is the Fairclough’s crippled and homebound daughter, Mignon. All have distinct personalities (and problems); one of the problems facing Nicholas’ wife, Alatea, appears to be infertility, and as it’s one Deborah and St. James are also dealing with, Deborah begins to fixate somewhat on Alatea.
As the title implies, there are all kinds of lies that all the characters have been living with and accepting for quite some time; the longer Lynley is there, the more these lies and cover ups come to light. One of the central storylines concerns the dead man’s children - he had left his wife for a male partner, and his tweenage son is acting out in all kinds of ways. Worse, the children are left with the surviving partner as their own mother seems to have no interest in them.
While the themes of infertility and addiction are central to the book — in another way, they are not. What George is truly interested in is peeling back the layers of this dysfunctional family, applying her typically concise yet thorough look at each character. Parts of the book are heartbreaking, though she must be mellowing a bit as she ages, as some of the characters actually end up happier than when they started out.
I had a slight issue with the resolution of the central death — and I felt this book could certainly have been shorter, but I’ll admit, I loved every minute of it. I loved seeing one of my favorite writers back to top form, and if the book was maybe a little long and the ending wasn't quite right, I still couldn't put it down.
Next time, though, more Havers, please. She has her own story line in this book, but it's not a big enough one, and she and Lynley aren't working together in the same place. All in all, though, for the Elizabeth George fan — or any fan of the well-written, intelligent, character-driven novel — I’d say, dig in.
Robin Agnew is the co-owner of Aunt Agatha's Books in Ann Arbor.