Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George

evilElizabeth George’s 18th novel starring Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers of Scotland Yard will be published in mid-October of this year. This series dates back to 1988, and I was introduced to it by my mother; we have both been great fans.

Series readers will of course recognize the two familiar main characters, joined by the likeable Detective Constable Winston Nkata, sundry less sympathetic Scotland Yard superiors, and Barbara’s neighbors, Taymullah Azhar and his daughter Haddiyah. Simon St. James and his wife Deborah, sadly, barely cross the stage in this novel; and of course those readers who have been keeping up with the last 3-4 books in the series will know about the death of Lynley’s wife Helen, whom he is still grieving. As with most series, I think, an integral part of the reader’s enjoyment is in recognizing characters as old friends, and in that sense, it felt good to be back in the company of Lynley – upper class but down-to-earth, flawed and suffering, but trying to make a go of it with a new woman; and Havers – lower class and struggling all around, socially awkward, but devoted to Azhar and Haddiyah.

A brief plot introduction, and then I’ll avoid spoilers as this book is not yet published. Haddiyah’s mother Angelina is back on the scene just long enough to lull Azhar into complacency, and then she takes Haddiyah and runs. Azhar and Barbara together hire a private investigator to try to track the missing daughter, but his rights are limited: he was never listed on her birth certificate, never married her mother, and his paternity is unproven. Then Angelina turns up in Italy with a new beau, distraught that Haddiyah has been kidnapped from her. Naturally, Azhar is a subject; just as naturally, Barbara is committed to proving his innocence and bringing Haddiyah home.

From a thoroughly charming opening scene in which Lynley tries to charm his new girl by showing up at her roller derby match (!), we mostly stick with Barbara, who is at the zenith of her anti-authoritarianism. Consistently poorly-dressed and disrespectful, and usually described by her superiors as unprofessional, she outdoes herself here. While these are central tenets of Barbara’s character, her total flouting of law and order and disregard for keeping her own job in pursuit of Azhar and Haddiyah’s best interests gets a little outrageous. In prior books I felt that her devotion to the job was also an important part of her character; here, not so much. Her single-minded and, yes, stupid behaviors are at best an abrupt turn in her character’s development, and at worst, inconsistent with the Barbara we’ve come to love.

My criticisms continue. There is an utterly unbelievable beating; an unlikely mix-up of victims; and an indictment of prejudice which is nevertheless upheld, thus seeming to discredit the indictment in the first place. What had been a promising long-term relationship between well-loved characters, building in this series through many books, is thrown out the window in a flash – much like the sudden murder of Helen Lynley a few books ago, leading me to suspect that Elizabeth George enjoys wrenching some of her readers’ favorite characters away from them. Perhaps most infuriatingly, a promising beginning to a romance is left unresolved. This may be intended to keep us hanging on edge for the next book. However, all it did was make me mad. I actually, literally threw this book upon finishing it. (You can ask Husband.) I don’t think I’ve done that before. I’m no reader of romance novels, but I do enjoy a good, realistic, even sappy romantic thread in my thrillers or what have you. I have been teased and disappointed here, and I resent it. I had been doubting and hoping against doubt that George would pull this one through when she dropped the budding love affair, and I am now done with her.

Furthermore, I am not the only one to note that George’s books have been getting longer, and this, I believe, is her longest yet. That’s my awesome editor at the above link, noting that Just One Evil Act weighs in a good bit over 2 pounds. Now, page count is not always a problem – I would like to point to Stephen King’s outstanding 11/22/63 at 850 – but here, George could have written this plot up in 400 pages rather than more than 700, and I think it would have been better done. Her sentences, too, are overlong. Again, you know I have no inherent problem with long sentences. Take my word then when I say that George lost track of her editor in this work.

I regret this loss of a long-term love, but I don’t think I’ll be able to follow Havers and Lynley where they next tread.

Rating: 3 rambling plot threads.

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