” He wouldn’t sneak. That’s what it came down to, didn’t it? That’s the sum total of what he’d learned at Bredgar Chambers. To withhold the truth out of loyalty to one’s mates. How pathetic. What miserable creatures these places breed. ” (Ch.22, p.394)
Well-Schooled in Murder is set in the late 1980s, at Bredgar Chambers, an elite public school in the south of England founded in 1489. It’s a mystery that revolves around the strict yet unwritten code of behavior prevalent at independent schools which dictates that under circumstances must pupils ever tell on their schoolmates, no matter what they have done. When a 13-year-old boy goes missing one Friday afternoon and two days later is found dead in a church-yard an hour’s drive away, Inspector Lynley and his partner, Sergeant Havers, are up against a student body sealed in silence.
The pupils began to file out of the chapel—row after row of them, standing tall, their eyes straight ahead, their uniforms pressed, their hair neatly combed, their faces fresh. They must know, he thought, all of them.They’ve known all along. (Ch.17, p.288)
What appears first to be an elaborate ruse orchestrated by the boy to allow himself a weekend of freedom quickly points to murder of a disturbing and gruesome manner. He was found nude, with signs of being tortured—evidence that points to sadism, homosexuality, and molestation, so detrimental to the school’s reputation that the headmaster puts a lid on the incident. So begins a twisted, convoluted, and emotionally draining story as the Scotland Yard pair takes on a pointed exploration into both the written and unwritten codes of confidentiality that transcend the conduct of pupils. Even the adults, the teachers, the housemasters and headmaster have dark secrets they prefer buried.
George has a deft hand in exploring the multi-facets of the murder, whichever path she explores, reader is taken down the pathways of guilt, earned or unearned, as well as remorse. These elements of guilt, remorse, and honor take Lynley, Havers, and the reader through multiple dead ends that cannot immediately account for the full picture of Matthew Whateley’s murder but instead reveals the dark nature of humans. Before the final pages that lift the veil and reveal the true face of the murderer, the same elements of guilt and honor are part and parcel of the failing of a dozen people.
There’s a new tiwst nearly on every page, and the sense of danger elevates as Lynley and Havers peel back the dark and murky secrets of a school that is far more interested in protecting its reputation than helping the investigation. Nobody is what he seems and nobody is above suspicion. Several people are tangentially involved in the boy’s death but without their knowing. The complex rabbit warren of relationships would be key to solving the case. The book offers a piercing study of the education of a gentleman and his responsibilities and valor. Although the perpetrator is brought to justice, the wreck and ruin of all the lives that touch this investigation is truly the most chilling part of the story. After all, as this book goes, it all comes down to how one defies murder and love.
414 pp. Bantam Books. Pocket Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow] Read in Phuket, Thailand