Sunday, August 9, 2009

Book reviews: A Great Deliverance and Payment In Blood by Elizabeth George

I can’t believe it took me seven books into vacation to reach the first British murder mystery (hereinafter sometimes referred to as “BMMs”); I love BMMs and once spent a whole vacation reading nothing but – PD James, Dorothy Sayers … now, thanks to the excellent suggestion of Nancy B. and Megan (B)K., I can add the Thomas Lynley novels by Elizabeth George to the roster.

A Great Deliverance and Payment In Blood are the first two books in the series (many of which have been adapted into films by the BBC). The investigatory team is Inspector Thomas Lynley, Eighth Earl of Something-or-Other and Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers. In the best BMM tradition, these two are terribly mismatched and at odds with each other immediately – Lynley an aristocratic, handsome, urbane rake, Havers a short and squat working class oaf. But neither is exactly as they seem. Lynley holds pain and compassion within his gilded breast; Havers has a very sharp mind and good instincts beneath her bad temper and manners. Plus, Lynley is the sergeant’s last chance to advance in New Scotland Yard: if she can’t figure out how to work with him, she’s doomed to being a beat cop forever since she’s already alienated every other available inspector.

In A Great Deliverance, Lynley and Havers’s first case together takes them out of London and into the tiny, lovely village of Keldale, in Yorkshire. There, a wealty farmer has been found decapitated in his barn, his elderly border collie killed as well, and his fat, unattractive daughter sitting next to him, saying “I did it. And I’m not sorry.” But the good people of Keldale refuse to believe that Roberta, a good, gentle, simple soul, could have killed her father. And so the hunt is afoot for Scotland Yard.

Payment In Blood has Lynley and Havers in Scotland at a hulking manor house, investigating the brutal murder of a playwright. The acting troupe also ensconced at the house is full of insufferable characters and suspicious pesonages. Havers, as usual, struggles with the preferential treatment given to the upper class, while Lynley is shocked to discover that the woman he loves is there, and there with another man. Right under their noses another murder is committed and both Lynley and Havers find the situation spiraling dangerously out of their control.

Elizabeth George has not broken any particularly new ground here. She stays true to form with the tropes of her police team and their country cases. But she does it all so very well: she has a lovely eye for detail, and draws her characters exceedingly well, giving even the minor ones depth and making it impossible not to care about the major players. George doesn’t shy away from the grimness of human behavior and instead has crafted two very strong BMMs – and good novels apart from their genre to boot. I look forward to investigating more cases with Lynley and Havers in the near future - and may have to look into their BBC live action adaptations.

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