I am a fan of Elizabeth George’s British detective series, and the latest installment is a fine achievement. Setting her tale in the New Forest area of Hampshire, in England, George creates a complex and compelling detective story.
This Body of Death: An Inspector Linley novel
Elizabeth George’s This Body of Death (704 pages, Harper-Collins, $28) finds her suave, aristocratic detective inspector, Thomas Linley, still alienated and grieving over his wife’s death. Isabel Ardery, the new, “acting” Detective Superintendent, realizes that Linley is on the mind of everyone in the unit, including, especially perhaps, his former partner, the indefatigable, and badly dressed, Barbara Havers.
Ardery decides that if she is going to succeed to win the permanent position as superintendent, which she openly covets, she needs Linley’s help. She invites him back to help with a specific case, and he quickly finds himself deeply involved once again. No sooner does he do so, however, than he discovers that Isabel Ardery is something of a drunk. She slips airline-size vodka bottles into her purse, and she knocks one or two (or three) back whenever the stress gets too much for her. After a few of these extended trips to the ladies’ room, and the strong smell of cover-up mints, Tommy, as Linley is known to his friends, realizes what is going on. When he confronts her, she is all denial; but it's not long before her behavior gets the better of her, and Tommy is throwing her, fully-clothed, into the shower to help her try to sober up.
While all this is going on, Havers looks on from a distance and suspects that something sexual might have transpired between these two attractive figures. She is right in that assumption, but it does not devastate her as much as it might have in earlier times, when her crush on Linley was almost paralyzingly strong. She has other interests herself, and the middle-aged father of a young South Asian girl who has befriended her, starts to offer her a clear and more realistic alternative.
While these personal lives are unfolding, the team is facing a gruesome murder case. A young woman was brutally murdered—her throat was slashed—in a cemetery in London, and Ardery’s first challenge is to find the murderer. In true Elizabeth George fashion, the case is crowded with characters, and because the victim had recently moved from Hampshire, in the area of the New Forest, much of the action of the novel takes place down there.
The victim had been involved with a handsome and rugged youngish thatcher—the person who puts thatch on all those stone and timber houses—whom she left abruptly for no apparent reason. Once in London, she had taken up with another guy (or two), but the thatcher, Gordon Josee, still made attempts to reach her.
As the case develops, Ardery decides that London is more important than Hampshire, and she drags everyone back to London, including Havers and her partner Winston Nkata. Havers’ instinct is that this is the wrong move, and she is openly defiant of her new boss. Linley sympathizes with Havers, but he thinks she needs to obey orders.
These tensions deepen, and Ardery starts a new tragic-pursuit of a subject who turns out not to be the murderer. George is recounting a chilling tale of three young boys who, sometime in the nineteen-nineties, were found guilty of the wanton abduction and murder of a young London toddler. This account, written in the voice of a sociological historian, is utterly riveting, but it is hard at first to figure out what it has to do with the already convoluted main plot.
Elizabeth George brings it all together beautifully, and the ending is in some ways more satisfying than one could imagine even ten pages before it. I have nothing but praise for this sophisticated mystery writer, and I am delighted to say that she has left things so that we can look forward to more Inspector Linley novels!
Pick up a copy at Vroman's, Powell's or Amazon.