Publication date: October 10th 2013
Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers is not a woman well-known for her fashion sense or healthy living. Neither is she able to keep her mouth shut when she disagrees with what is being said—no matter who is saying it. What she has in excess is loyalty and when a dear friend’s daughter is taken away by her mother; she ignores all warnings and advice to stay out of it and gets involved. As is often the case it is her erstwhile, well-bred boss, Detective Thomas Lynley who ends up running interference for her and trying to get to the bottom of things using proper protocol. This is just the first part of Elizabeth George’s latest Lynley novel, Just One Evil Act.
When the girl’s mother shows up in London, blaming her husband for stealing the girl, the tables are turned except he has no knowledge of her disappearance from the Tuscan villa where she has been living with her mother and her lover. Suddenly, this goes from being a domestic dispute to a kidnapping. Unfortunately, although the child is British the case must be handled by the Italian authorities and it is here, that George’s superlative research skills come into play and, quite frankly, the Italian criminal justice system takes a shellacking (remember Amanda Knox?). With only man interested in finding the truth (and the little girl), the British send over Lynley to liaise between the parents and the Italian police. For every bit of information he uncovers there is even more being hidden.
Without giving away too much of the plot, suffice it to say that Just One Evil Act does not end with the discovery of Hadiyyah. Instead, there is a suspicious death and a whole new cast of suspects, at which point Havers throws her career to the wind and departs for Tuscany without departmental approval. Will her reckless attitude and unkempt appearance work with the Italian police or is she going to make a bad situation worse?
After seventeen Lynley novels, it is easy to imagine that these characters are people who actually exist, possibly living at George’s house. Barbara Havers, with all her foibles and impetuous behavior (chopping off her hair being one) is not just a surface caricature but is also formed by George’s careful hand to be a very real woman. In filling in such personal detail the author makes the entire story more real and as urgent to the reader as it is to Barbara herself. There is also the poignancy of her life. To do the kind of work she does much must be sacrificed and if her allegiance to Taymullah Azhar teeters between friendship and obsession, it is clear why.
He watched her and she felt the humiliation sweep through her. That he, of all people, should see her like this. Reduced in this way to the disintegrating substance of what comprised her: loneliness that he had never known, misery that he had seldom felt, a future stretching out in front of her that contained her job and nothing else.
Just One Evil Act is one of my more favorite in the Lynley series. At over 750 pages, it is not a book to be taken lightly (literally). George assembles a cast of characters, all with ambiguous motives, that wend their way through the narrative but like the seasoned pro she is, she leaves no loose ends. And even though DS Havers makes me grind my teeth at her willful desire to listen to no one but the voice in her head, it is so much a part of who she is that I can only hope, the calm Lynley will step in and save her once again. This is mystery reading at its finest.
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