“Abused children carry abuse forward through time. This is the unthinkable gift that keeps on giving.” (753)
This Body of Death is long, but the intriguing plots that at a first glace bear no obvious relation to each other justify the length. The novel begins with a barrage of plot shards: a grisly toddler abduction tale alternates with a baffling narrative about a missing young woman whose bloody corpse turns up in a London graveyard. The victim, throat cut, is identified as Jemima Hastings, a flighty, man-obsessed young woman who, months before, had mysteriously disappeared from the sylvan cottage she shared with her boyfriend, a rather morose, reclusive roof thatcher named Gordon Jossie, in northern England.
There had to be a way to explain both her life and her death. And he had to find that truth, for he knew that its discovery would be the only way he could forgive himself for failing Jemimia…(437)
George spends the first quarter of the book (about 250 pages) developing all the characters associated to the victim. It’s tedious but not compromising on the pace of the book, rather it’s establishing a suspense. In a mystery with such complicated plots, readers will be rewarded for being patient with the background information, which is important to understanding the players and their subsequent actions. The thread about the toddler abduction-murder is the black thread in the white tapestry that one recognizes as significant, but its relevance not revealed until the much later deciding stage. George fleshes out all her characters beautifully, moving seamlessly in and out of their heads, affording glimpses into their secrets. Jemima also comes alive through the recollections of those who know her, as well as the investigation itself, which turns up a variety of leads involving an ancient coin and a stone.
By the way things are developing, everyone associated to Jemima seems to be in cahoots, but their partnership among them is not known. Meredith, best friend of Jemima who is on her own investigation, knows the platoon of her old lovers, fellow lodgers and Jossie’s new live-in lady love—all play a part in the murder. They keep scrambling out of the woodwork and coincidences abound.
The investigation team is also laden with drama. Isabelle Ardery, a police superintendent with a drinking problem and complicated family life orders DI Barbara Havers to have a makeover and wear A-skirt and pantyhose for a more professional appearance. Her misjudgment in the pursuit of a renown musician is saved by DI Thomas Lynley, who returns to the fold from bereavement.
This Body of Death is a slow-churned mystery poised on murder, police malfeasance, false identity, and a long-ago act of violence. George has a fine eye for details, the writing is strong enough that it flows effortlessly once reader gets into the story. It’s a circuitous story full of convolutions, but the mystery plot weaves perfectly together from the many threads.
953 pp. Harper Fiction. Pocket Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]