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[787] Deception on His Mind – Elizabeth George

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“We persuade ourselves to believe all manner of falsehood when our self-interest guides us. Then, when the worst befalls us, we’re left to gaze back over our actions. We wonder whether one of them might have been the cause of disaster.” (Ch.17, p.443)

It’s a little too long, but Deception on His Mind is a rich and engrossing novel that portrays a contemporary England that is culturally complex and simmering with tension. It opens with a murder of a man, Haytham Querashi, recently arrived from Pakistan, who is to wed the daughter of a local businessman. His death triggers riot of Pakistanis demanding a thorough investigation on the matter and equal treatment on minority groups in general. Behind the pandemonium is Muhannad, the hot-headed Muslim activist whose sister Shalah is arranged to marry Querashi. But Shalah has her secret too—she is in love with an Englishman Theo Shaw, scion of a wealthy developer, and is pregnant. Since everything about an Asian daughter was to be safeguarded and kept in trust for future husband, from the molding of her mind to protection of her chastity, her being impregnated by a foreigner is a huge disgrace to her family. Even Querashi’s death does not end Shalah’s obligation to her family because she will have to marry whoever her family chooses for her. In the same way, the marriage is an advantage to Querashi, whose homosexuality must be hidden, as he didn’t want to bear the scorn of his people and his religion. If Shalah and Querashi’s secrets are safe with each other, who did Querashi know that could have murdered him?

Although the killing has racial overtones, other motives arise—love, jealousy, sexuality, religion, and greed. Smuggling, burglary, and other crimes also come to light. Everyone involved has the share of secrets. Hidden in the plot are subtle clues to the solution, which hinges on Muslim laws and family tradition, but stems from selfish desire The solution does come as a surprise, and sheds light in how we see ourselves in terms of the relativity of wrong-doing, and how we justify our behavior. Despite being a bit too long, the book is intriguing, as all sorts of secrets and surprises figure into a well-wrought narrative.

713 pp. Bantam. Pocket Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

[779] A Suitable Vengeance – Elizabeth George

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More, he didn’t have the taste or the talent for either [communication or intuitive deduction}. And the further he waded into the growing mire of conjecture, the more frustrated he felt.” (Ch.18, p.269)

For someone who is new to the Inspector Thomas Lynley series and knows nothing about the background, A Suitable Vengeance fills that gap. It goes way back to when Lynley was single, before he married Helen, and was dating Deborah Cotter. The eighth earl of Asherton brings his fiancee Deborah Cotter to Cornwall to meet his widowed mother. Accompanying them are Lynley’s best friend, forensic scientist Simon St. James; St. James’s sister Sidney; her boyfriend Justin Brooke; Lady Helen Clyde; and Deborah’s father, St. James’s valet.

The weekend turns badly awry when the local newspaper editor, Mick Cambrey, was found dead in his cottage—hit in the head and castrated. The cottage rummaged and money taken, evidence points to murder-robbery; but soon it is revealed that Cambrey lived a double life. On the pretext of funneling money to update the newspaper agency, he has been operating a medical fraud trifecta of lies, deceit, and greed.

But due to the ingrown relationships, which seem somewhat contrived and overwrought, especially the love-triangle between Lynley, his betrothed, and St. James, there’s a lot of background prose to trudge through before the first hint of foul actually takes place, on p.120. When a second death follows closely on the heels of the first, Lynley finds he cannot help taking the investigation personally—because the evidence points to a killer within his own family.

George drip-feeds information and red herrings to keep readers’ suspension wavering. Her characters, all enmeshed in personal pain, are fleshed out. The resolution of the accumulating murders involves a different type of illegal drugs and centers around the dubious activities of a young London woman whose dubious identity surprises everyone. The mystery is tight and George handles the evidence and supposition with a deft hand, but I would appreciate if she downplays the love entanglement somewhat. That all said, I do find reconciliation and understanding between Lynley and his estranged mother very moving.

449 pp. Bantam. Pocket Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

[777] Careless in Red – Elizabeth George

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“But the fact remains that when someone lies in the middle of a murder investigation, that’s what the cops look at.” (Ch.18, p.520)

Careless in Red opens with Thomas Lynley, in his depression over his wife and unborn child’s death, has gone on a very long walk on the British coast, trying to get away from places and things that remind him of Helen. On the forty-third day of his walk, in Cornwall, disheveled and shabby, he discovers the body of Santo Kerne on the rocks, apparently killed while cliff-climbing. In trying to make report to local police, he involves Dr. Daidre Trihair who owns a cottage nearby at Poulcare Cove.

The boy is the son of a man who had himself been at least tangentially involved in a cave-drowning death a number of years ago. The 18-year-old Santo has been a ladies’ man who sleeps with any woman come his way. He seems to have taken after his mom, a manic tart his father always has to keep his eyes on. Given the family’s extensive social network and Santo’s many partners, George introduces a tapestry of colorful suspects, all of whom has a very good motive for bumping off Santo Kerne. His girlfriend, Madlyn Angerrick, who gives up training for the Olypics, finds out that Santo has been double-dealing her with other women—older women, and cuts all ties. Having a motive to revenge on his cruel infidelity, Madlyn is not above suspicion. Nor is the doctor who is very careful with what she reveals about herself. Santo was reportedly seen in her cottage but she denies knowing him. Santo’s father is also ravaged by guilt because he couldn’t accept the boy for who he was and their last conversation ended in a row.

While the mystery itself is absorbing, it’s the psychological aspects of the novel that make it compelling. George does not write a cookie-cutter whodunit but takes time to develop her characters and get inside their lives. They are more than just suspects. While each has a myriad of reasons to commit the crime, each is embroiled in the respective family drama. Several family sagas are played out, incorporating the intergenerational conflict that binds individual members to each other and intertwines them. The result is a book so rich in content and interpersonal drama that one forgets it’s a mystery. Even the false leads would add to the background of the story. Garnished with a couple twists, the conclusion is a surprise but doesn’t stretch the credibility. The book is a feast of friendships, relationship, family, estrangement between parents and children, and emotional intrigues.

868 pp. Harper Fiction. Pocket Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

[776] This Body of Death – Elizabeth George

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“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]

[721] Well-Schooled in Murder – Elizabeth George

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” 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

[719] A Great Deliverance – Elizabeth George

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” She gave curious attention to the open pages of the album. It was a pictorial family record, the kind that documents weddings and births, Christmas, Easter, and birthdays. But every picture that had more than one child in it had been cut up in some way, oddly defaced, so that pictures had central slices missing or wedges cut into them, and the size of the family was systematically reduced in every one. The effect was chilling. ” (Ch.6, p.141)

The debut novel introduces Scotland Yard’s inspector Thomas Lynley and his assistant, Barbara Havers, as they investigate a daughter’s brutal murder, a decapitation, of her deeply religious father. The odd pair, suave Lynley with a mix of bravado and sensitivity, and the utterly charmless Havers, is sent to the wilds of Yorkshire, where an obese girl has been found sitting by the headless corpse of her father, covered in his blood and proclaiming her guilt. She admitted to the crime and said nothing else.

The girl is sent to mental asylum. Lynley and Havers weigh in the general conviction in the village that Roberta Teys could not possibly have wielded the bloody axe against mounting evidence that damns the now catatonic girl. What confronts the Lynley and Havers is the question of mental competence arising out of her admission to the crime and her unwillingness to speak.

Tessa’s not dead, Inspector. She deserted William a short time after Roberta was born. He’d hired a detective to find her so that he could have their marriage annulled by the Church. (Ch.7, p.174)

The novel is undercut with many sub-stories that are interwoven into the main murder. These backstories provide a multi-layered insight into the dysfunctional family of William teys, whose wife ran away after being fed up in an unhappy and loveless marriage. She was barred from raising her children. The older daughter, Gillian Teys, also ran away to London she sought refuge in a church that accommodated runaway children. She is the important key to liberate Roberta’s silence.

The plot is slightly overloaded with clues, as the small Yorkshire village seemingly teems in bastard offspring, secret affairs, tangled relationships decoupled and recoupled, and, slowly to be revealed, as the Scotland pair sifts through the ashes of the past, for the two daughters of the murdered man, a long and brutal history of abuse. There is a psychological depth about the book that takes reader into a dark labyrinth of secret scandals. There’s also a rebuttal to religious stupidity that puts holy oath above the safety of children. It’s an impressive debut if not too overwrought.

413 pp. Bantam Books. pocket Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow] Read in Pattaya, Thailand