"He has set me in dark places
Like the dead of long ago." -- Lamentations 3:6 (NKJV)
Nothing pleases me more than to sit down with a long engrossing tale and to be drawn fully into a different world, gaining many insights from the experience . . . and feeling transformed at the end.
Having been a fan of the Thomas Lynley novels for some time, I settled in with this book and waited for the magic to arrive.
It was a long wait. In the last hundred pages, the book began to take on a more interesting character . . . or I would have rated it at one star.
This book needs a strong editor to whack it down to size to fit the story's potential. Without that, you'll spend a lot of time following matters that won't interest you very much and may even make you feel not as good as when you picked up the book.
Unless you feel compelled to read every word that Elizabeth George writes, I suggest you skip this book. The next one has to be better.
So what's it all about? The book's core concerns the death of Ian Cresswell, who had recently left his wife to live with his male lover. Sir David Hillier "loans" Lynley to a casual acquaintance, Bernard Fairclough, to look into the death in an unofficial way. Thomas asks Simon and Deborah St. James to join him in the sleuthing, and he makes occasional calls on Barbara Havers for research help. It's all a bit awkward because Thomas cannot tell his "guv" and lover, Isabelle Ardley, where he is or what he is doing . . . and Barbara Havers is under her authority.
The book has multiple narrators: the deceased; Lynley; Deborah; Barbara; Cresswell's son Tim; a Fairclough daughter; a Fairclough daughter-in-law; and Zed Benjamin, a tabloid reporter. This design allows for lots of subplots such as strains in Lynley's relationship with Isabelle, the St. Jameses dealing with infertility, the difficulties faced by the Cresswell children, trying to find a juicy story for a tabloid and still live with one's conscience, Barbara's battles against orders to improve her appearance, and Barbara's relationship with her neighbors.
The story has enough plots and subplots to fill six soap operas, so don't be surprised by anything that comes along. If it hasn't happened yet, it probably will.
Overall, the book left me feeling down . . . even though I admired the way that Ms. George ultimately pulled a couple of rabbits out of the hat to make the story more worth the slog.
I felt that only the writing about Barbara Havers was really good. If this book had been expanded to just focus on her, it would have been a far, far better work. Much of the rest involved too little character development, too many unlikely circumstances, too predictable development events, and not much encouragement to draw from the human pain displayed.