Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Great Deliverance, by Elizabeth George

Well, I hadn't actually intended to read anything not in the plan for this month, but this one literally "jumped out" at me. I was futzing around with my books in the British Reading Room, and this book fell to the floor. I picked it up and walked off with it, and I couldn't help myself. I've actually read this one before, but had totally spaced what went on here.

In London, Scotland Yard is searching desperately for a killer known as The Ripper, who seeks and takes victims at railway stations.   But in York, a crime of a different sort has occurred: a young girl, overweight and unattractive, has been found in the barn next to her house with a dead dog and her father’s decapitated body.   The girl, Roberta, has as much as admitted that she did it, but the local priest isn’t sure and contacts Scotland Yard.  Enter Inspector Lynley and his newly-appointed partner, Barbara Havers, and off to York they go.  The investigation isn’t easy: the only eyewitness, Roberta, is in a mental institution where she refuses to talk.  Havers and Lynley must piece together what might have happened — but it’s not going to be an easy task.

So much for the summary.  Now here’s what I think. The author did a good job with the crime per se, and the core mystery is good, handled well under the circumstances (which I cannot mention because it would wreck it for others).  Aside from that, though, there’s way too much personal angst among the main characters, so much so that you wonder how this mystery ever got solved.  Lynley is an aristocrat who started with the police to give something back to the community, was in love with another one of the characters, Deborah, who ultimately married his friend Simon.   So on top of solving this rather brutal crime, he has to stop and sort out his feelings for Deborah.  A bit out of place, but whatever.  Then there’s Havers. She is described as being from working-class stock, rather dumpy with a poor sense of how to dress, and she has it in for Lynley and his friends because they’re from the upper crust of society.    Her anger and resentment strikes at odd places in this story, which is a bit distracting.  Lady Helen, one of Lynley's friends,  I could actually take or leave.

Having said all of this, you’d probably think I didn’t care for the book, but I did. I like a well-crafted and well-plotted mystery novel, and aside from the main characters having to sort through their spontaneous crises at times, it was a good story.  My experience with first novels in mystery series is that they are probably not the best that the author has to give.  I would recommend this book, certainly, for people who enjoy UK crime fiction.  Not a cozy at all, but rather dark and broody, it’s a good mystery read.

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