Tuesday, August 23, 2016

What we're reading: Another British mystery series

I've been reading Elizabeth George's mystery series about Inspector Thomas Lynley (the eighth earl of Asherton) and Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers of Scotland Yard since the beginning, which was her book A Great Deliverance. The dynamic between the two--the elegant, gracious, kindly upper-class inspector and the suspicious, resentful, working-class plod with whom he is partnered--is the best part of her books, but she is also a master at scene-setting, atmosphere, and plot twists.

My interest flagged for a while, however; after she wrote the book What Came Before He Shot Her, which was a radical, albeit brilliant and captivating, departure from the Lynley series (although it was connected in one respect), it seemed like she lost her way. The subsequent three books seemed a bit lackluster--all the elements were there, but to me, they just didn't have the same chemistry or sparkle.

She more than redeemed herself with the last book in the series, though--Just One Evil Act was one of her best, in my opinion, particularly because it took the focus off the depressed and depressing Lynley (I won't tell you the reason for his mood, because it's a major spoiler for the series, but those three books were downers) and instead featured a mystery that evolved from the personal life of Barbara Havers and took us on a trip to a charming walled town in Italy, as a travel bonus. So I was encouraged to keep going when I saw that #19 in the series was out (it actually released back in October of last year, but I guess I wasn't paying attention!), and I wasn't disappointed.

The plot of A Banquet of Consequences was so interesting. The book starts out with the suicide of a troubled young man. Then it jumps to a look at Havers, back in London trying to recover from the major gaffes she committed while in Italy and struggling not to be transferred to the back of beyond by her irate "guv" (boss). A chance encounter brings her together with a feminist author whose dogsbody assistant turns out to be the mother of the suicidal youth. Then another death occurs, and when it is eventually determined that it's murder, Barbara sees her inadvertent connection as the perfect opportunity to redeem herself and prove she has what it takes to stay at Scotland Yard.

I haven't read many mysteries in which the author managed to obscure for such a major part of the book who the murderer actually was, but the most impressive part was the back-and-forth of who might have been the intended victim(s). That was truly intriguing. We got to see more of Barbara Havers doing her thing, which is always fun, and we received more insight into characters who have previously been not much more than caricature, like department secretary Dorothea Harriman. I'm looking forward to the next in this series again. Burbank Public Library owns this last book in large print, as a sound recording (audio book), and as an e-book.

Also, for those who are interested, Masterpiece Mysteries on the BBC made a television series, called the Inspector Lynley Mysteries, from 2001 to 2008, some of which you can borrow from Burbank Public Library. The rest you can still find online on PBS.org and other online streaming services. Although Tommy Lynley is a brunette in the series (he's blond in the books) and Sharon Small never seemed obnoxious enough to me to play the redoubtable Barbara Havers, they're very well done and there are 23 episodes, some based on the books and some only using the characters but developing original plotlines.

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