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British Mysteries

This Body of Death, Elizabeth George, Harper, $28.99.

This Body of Death by Elizabeth George

I like Elizabeth George best when her stories are centered in the heart of London. She has a Deborah Crombie-ish excursion to the New Forest in this novel, but most of it takes place in London. It's a return to form for her in lots of ways, and it's a very welcome one. After a book where Lynley's wife was murdered; a book which explicated the killer's side of things; and one where Lynley was gloomily lurching around Cornwall, he's back in London and back at the Met where he belongs. There's lots of good things going on here—there's a new acting superintendent, Isabelle Ardery, who can't seem to put a foot right; Havers has orders to get herself a makeover; and Lynley is reunited not only with his job but with his old friends Deborah and Simon.

While Lynley is partnered with Ardery in this outing, and Havers with Nkata, everything else is as it should be. Nkata is an established enough character (who's been working with Barbara since Lynley's absence in any case) that it's not too jarring, and the tension that's established through Havers wanting to work with Lynley again adds some extra depth to the book.

There are very few authors who could write a 689 page book and actually make me want to read it, but Elizabeth George is one of them. The way she blends her characters, the way she tells a complicated story, all make me return to her books again and again. There's no better writer on the planet at explicating motive, and not just the motives of the criminals involved, but the motives of the central characters, who any regular reader has by this time come to regard with a great deal of affection. While I'm a big Lynley fan myself, there are those who would like to give him "a poke in the snoot" (to quote my husband about Lord Peter Wimsey) but I've found few if any readers who don't possess an unabashed affection for Barbara Havers, surely one of the greatest characters in contemporary mystery fiction.

This novel also has a wonderful and complex story with some twists I didn't see coming (and one I did). It's set up in alternating narratives, one a psychological report of three troubled boys who abduct a baby, and the other main story involving a missing woman, her boyfriend back in the New Forest, and her eventual corpse in a London cemetery. One of the things George is brilliant at is getting the reader to know and like the victim, making the regret at the death even greater and more resonant. As the story of the dead woman, Jemima Hastings, is unraveled, it becomes clear that she'd left her boyfriend, Gordon Jossie, in a mysterious hurry. Jossie is a roofing thatcher working in the New Forest (Google thatched roofs to have a look at these beauties) and both Jemima's brother and her best friend, Meredith, feel there's something off about him. Added to the mix is Gordon's new girlfriend, Gina, and the group of people that Jemima apparently knew in London.

Complicating matters is Superintendent Ardery's refusal or unwillingness to work with the strengths of the members of her team, instead making sometimes arbitrary and sometimes just plain wrong decisions that get her into all sorts of trouble. Lynley's way of smoothing the waters in a very back of the scenes manner goes a long way toward the eventual solving of the crime, as does Havers' pure doggedness and good instincts. While I do feel that, atmosphere or no, there were some parts of the story that could have been tightened up or edited more closely, the main story is a strong one, and it's great to feel the old dark Elizabeth George magic back at work once again. By the end of the book, I couldn't look away or stop reading, and I was purely surprised by one of the twists, though George has set her story so carefully I guess I shouldn't have been.

She seems to be mellowing a bit as she leaves at least two of the characters on the verge of an actual happy ending, and she leaves Lynley now looking forward instead of backward, which is progress. And Havers? She has a new skirt to add to her wardrobe, but I'm not so sure that her makeover will go any farther than that. I'm certainly more than willing to pick up the next book in order to find out.

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