Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Book Review(s): Inspector Lynley Mysteries by Elizabeth George

Here's what I've been doing for the last month:

I got a Kindle, as you may or may not have heard. And I decided that what I wanted to read first on my Kindle were the Inspector Lynley mysteries by Elizabeth George. A bunch of them have been sitting in my Amazon.com wish list for well over a year, following my seeing the BBC versions of some of the books on Masterpiece: Mystery! At last count, I think I've read 6 of the 13 that are available. This is what keeps me off Facebook most nights. Of course there was also The Count of Monte Cristo, but that's a subject for another post.

So I started near the end, with the book that was the last episode of the television series: With No One As Witness. This one had all my favorite things in a mystery novel: lots of dead bodies, a potential threat to the law enforcement officers involved, and a serial killer. Needless to say, it did not disappoint. The bulk of the book deals with a series of murdered young boys; eventually the investigation leads the detectives to a youth center and from there to the killer. It was pretty awesome. I really enjoyed Inspector Lynley as a written character, and Sergeant Havers is awesome. This particular volume made some ill-advised attempts to convey what happens in a police situation room; no one wants to read about people sifting through paperwork and looking shit up on a computer -- those are things for which you want to skip showing and go straight to the telling. And make it brief.

Next I read What Came Before He Shot Her. I was tricked into buying this one by Amazon, which publicizes it on their website as being a Lynley/Havers novel. Well, no. It is a novel about the kid who shot Lynley's wife in the previous book. And it is terrible. Racist, and terrible. It reads like a social services case file on a 12-year-old stuck in a housing project. If this novel had been written about an African-American kid by this white woman writer, the outcry would have been quite loud. As it is, I found this novel offensive and boring -- drugs, sex, and gang violence aren't even remotely entertaining anymore, it turns out. Which is a shame -- if you're going to offend, at least make it interesting. I stopped less than halfway through, as soon as I figured out that Inspector Lynley would not be making an appearance.

And then came Careless In Red. I enjoyed most of it -- the investigation, Inspector Lynley and the way he's mourning the deaths of his wife and unborn child, most of the peripheral characters. But the character that gives the book its title was just stupid and one-dimensional, and I found myself really irritated by her and her supposed effect on several other characters. The whole situation was poorly drawn.

Then I went back to the beginning and read A Great Deliverance, Payment in Blood, Well-Schooled in Murder, A Suitable Vengeance, For the Sake of Elena, and Missing Joseph. I really liked going back to the beginning and meeting the characters for the first time. And honestly? Elizabeth George's writing was better in the earlier books. However, four of her five main characters -- Lynley, Helen Clyde, St. James and his wife Deborah -- really need to get over themselves. No one in real life has the kind of issues they only think they have. There's nothing relatable in any of their faux-drama. They are likeable enough, but they are not relatable. It's like the writer is so enamored of all their virtue, she's made them into these paragons. Presumably they all become more human, like the 5th main character, Sgt. Havers, as the series progresses. Thank god for Sgt. Havers, ever the voice of reason and actual humanity.

But in general, the books are really great reads, and the mysteries are somewhere between a British/PD James type thing and an American-feeling faster paced crime thriller. It was time well spent.


ज़ाकिर अली ‘रजनीश’ said...
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Sadako said...

I read some of these books years ago and liked them...though I liked Lynley OK, he was no Wexford. I love both P.D. James and Ruth Rendell, and Dagliesh rocks but Wexford is so my homeboy! Wexford (and his second, Burden), are my favorites and I never hate reading about their personal lives like I do with a lot of detectives.

Shannon said...

Ooh, that is good to hear, because I just purchased the first Wexford novel and hope to read it shortly! I love PD James.

I'm hearing bad things about the new Lynley novel that came out last week...

Sadako said...

Oh awesome--hope you enjoy it! As soon as I read my first Wexford one (I didn't go in order--I read Simisola first), I was hooked. Happy reading.