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Reading Roundup: The Inspector Lynley Mysteries by Elizabeth George, Books 9-11

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17 September 2011 | 05:59 pm

Years ago I read the first eight Inspector Lynley novels, about an aristocratic detective at Scotland Yard and his working-class partner. I used to read one or two every six months or so, but fell out of the habit. So I threw myself back into them this summer, reading one right after another, which may have been a mistake. They're kinda long. But here's what I thouht of them:

Deception on His Mind by Elizabeth George
New York: Bantam, 1997. Hardcover, 616 pages. Gift from my aunt, December 2007.

This picks up not long after the end of the previous installment, In the Presence of the Enemy, with Havers injured and Lynley getting married. As a result, the book features a lot of Havers on her own, which works against one of the main joys of the series: the interplay between Lynley and Havers. Neither character is as interesting when by themself. As a result, Deception on His Mind is a fairly standard mystery novel, with the usual twists and turns and false leads. It is annoying that the characters spend a lot of time chasing down a lead the reader knows is clearly false from the prologue. Also, there's a lot about racial tensions between the "English" and some Pakistani immigrants in a seaside town, and the novel seems to want to be a hard-hitting examination of racism, but it doesn't really succeed, since all of the racist characters are just all around awful people. I did quite like the character of Azhar, though, and Barbara gets a great moment in the story's climax, which really worked for me.
 
In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner by Elizabeth George
New York: Bantam, 1999. Hardcover, 596 pages. Gift from my aunt, December 2007.

As a mystery, this book feels like it cheats to me, since most sideways of references to what turns out to be the motive for murder doesn't come up until around page 300, halfway through the book. But this only bothered me intellectually (my guess for the murderer was flat-out wrong, of course), since the novel itself was gripping enough that I was emotionally involved the entire time. (And, of course, 300 pages with that motive in play is longer than many whole novels.) Like the best of George's Lynley novels, In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner is as much an investigation into the murdered as the murderer, a character that everybody knew but no one knew. The constant peeling back really worked, and though Lynley and Havers's relationship here is fractious, it's back in the book. My favorite of the three Lynley novels I read this summer by far. (But why does Elizabeth George think that "role" has a circumflex over the o? Every time I read "rôle" I'm knocked right out of the story as I rôll my eyes.)
 
A Traitor to Memory by Elizabeth George
New York: Bantam, 2002 (2001). Mass market paperback, 1009 pages. Gift from my brother, December 2010.

I wanted to like this book. It's two very good books jammed together into one subpar book. At over a thousand pages, this in the longest Inspector Lynley novel yet-- and Lynley himself doesn't show up until around page 64, which is okay, but doesn't do anything on the case until page 140! The pacing is atrocious because the investigation alternates with the first-person diaries of Gideon, a musical prodigy whose murky past is central to the case. The investigation is interesting, and Gideon is interesting, but each slows the other down, meaning the book moves at a slow slow crawl. Had George written a traditional detective novel, I'd have been happy, and had George written a literary narrative about Gideon, I'd have been happy, but as it is, I got neither and both parts felt underdeveloped. The whole thing was a slog.

Steve

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