Sunday, March 11, 2012

Elizabeth George leads Linley into uncharted waters.

I am a fan of Elizabeth George’s fiction, but this time she takes on almost too much.

Believing the Lie

Elizabeth George’s latest Thomas Linley mystery, Believing the Lie (624 pages, Dutton, $28.95), is set in the English Lake District in Cumbria. The director of Scotland Yard asks Linley to go up there to examine the “accidental” death of a young man who is a cousin of the Fairclough family. Ian Cresswell, who hit his head on some loose stones in the boat house one night after sculling on Lake Windermere, died instantly in the cold water of the lake. The case seems fairly clear, but Bernard Fairclough is worried that his son, Nicholas, a reformed drug addict and ne’re do well, may have something to do with it.

Linley takes his dear friend Simon St. James and Simon’s wife Deborah to help with the investigation. The team has trouble seeing anything particularly suggestive of murder, but there is a lot else to engage them once they begin to dig into the Fairclough family matters.

It happens that Ian had uncovered some questionable spending practices in the family company, and they mostly lead back to Bernard. When it turns out that Bernard has been having an affair with a former employee and indeed had something of a second life with her, his forty-three year marriage is more than a little jeopardized.

At the same time, Deborah discovers that Nicholas’s wife, a stunning Argentine woman, has been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant and has even been exploring the possibility of some kind of surrogacy. This strikes a chord with Deborah, whose own life with Simon has faltered under the impossibility of pregnancy and their inability to decide to adopt a child. As Deborah becomes obsessed with this other woman’s crisis, she finds herself at odds with Linley and St. James, who are ready to pack up and call it a day.

Meanwhile, Barbara Havers, Linley's trusted assistant, is mucking her way around London trying to dig up something about the Cumbrian characters by searching the web and so on. When her trail of the Argentine woman leads into Spanish websites, she is at a loss. But her kindly neighbor helps to find a translator, even as his own life is falling to pieces. What Havers discovers throws everything in Cumbria into a different light.

While Havers is uncovering a shocking past for Nicholas’s wife, Bernard’s other children are dealing with even more shocking events. After he left his wife, Ian Cresswell had been living with an Iranian man, his lodger and lover, and his own two children from his earlier marriage. His wife didn’t seem to want anything to do with the children even after Ian’s death. The older child, Tim, who is fourteen, has gone off the rails, and this has led him into child pornography and even to seeing himself as a victim in some kind of snuff film that he tries to persuade a local porn filmmaker to create.

This feature of the novel seems almost too much for George to take on. The boy’s experience is grueling enough, but after the most horrible experiences, he seems to bounce back almost unbelievably easily. One has to wonder if George was taking this part of her plot as seriously as all that.

Still, this is a wonderful addition to Elizabeth George’s Thomas Linley series. We will probably soon see it on Masterpiece Mystery.

Elizabeth George

Believing the Lie
is available at Powell's, Vroman's and Amazon.

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