Elizabeth George is back with a new book that once again has the balance between mystery (who killed the woman in the cemetery?) and personal (how is Thomas Lynley doing after the death of his wife?).
As a result, This Body of Death is quite a satisfying read. Her 2006 mystery, What Came Before He Shot Her, was almost painful in its suspense. One reader said on Amazon that reading this book was like helplessly watching a train wreck that is about to happen. Others criticized the book for being only tangentially in the Lynley series… for the “her” that is shot is Lynley’s lovely, pregnant wife Helen. The “he” was a 12-old boy. And the book spent almost all its pages cataloguing the closed, miserable hopeless life of a lower class family, particularly the children’s travails. Well-written and interesting, the unrelenting gloom of the book was a departure from the usual character-enriched police procedural.
George’s 2008 book, Careless in Red, has Lynley wandering, walking the Cornwall countryside, grief-stricken. He discovers a body and gets involved with solving the murder; his old partner, Barbara Havers shows up to lend a hand but even more importantly, to make sure that Lynley’s not gone completely off his rocker. The book was criticized by many as being a Cornwall travelogue, filled with way too many characters with very bizarre names, and for being packed with subplots, leading to a 700-page slog. My own memory was that it was interesting enough but that the characters at the heart of the story were exceedingly unpleasant.
Not so with This Body of Death. The old Tommy’s back, as are Deborah and Simon St. James, and the reliable Barbara Havers and Winston Nkata. Yay! Two story lines interweave – one the abduction and murder of a toddler by a trio of pre-pubescent boys, some 20 years ago – and the other a missing woman, the girlfriend of the enigmatic Gordon Jossie. How these story lines will converge is a question, and helps build the suspense. You know the toddler’s doomed – it’s clear from the start – but George doles the story out in a way that keeps you hoping that somehow it won’t end up the way you know it must.
The characters have their problems, but are also redeemed. There’s plenty of humor to lighten the story. Lynley’s partnered with the new chief detective, Isabelle Ardery, who is a secret drinker, estranged from her family, but still a pretty sharp thinker despite her flaws. She’s quite a schemer, and Tommy sees right through that, of course. Luckily she finds the courage to do the right thing and with Tommy’s help, earns a second chance for career success even as he solves the mystery. Of the other characters, some are clueless, some are well-meaning, some are mysterious, but all are worth spending time with.
Once again, the book clocks in at almost 700 pages. It’s not a quick read, but it’s a worthwhile one, and if, like me, you’ve been missing the verve of her previous books, you’ll love it. If you’re interested, readers on Amazon are giving it much higher reviews than either Careless in Red or What Came Before He Shot Her. The Washington Post doesn’t like it. But I’m guessing the Post was never a fan.