Thursday, July 17, 2008

Review: Elizabeth George's CARELESS IN RED

Elizabeth George's latest novel, Careless in Red, finds Detective Superintendent Thomas Lynley struggling with the aftermath of his pregnant wife's brutal murder.(With No One As Witness). An intervening work (What Came Before He Shot Her), which chronicled the background of his wife Helen's youthful assassin, was to my thought (and many other readers) sordid and unappealing.

So it was a joy for me to get Thomas Lynley back even if still reeling from the shock of the murder. Careless in Red finds him trudging alone along the Cornwall coast carrying little, sleeping rough, and floundering in depression. Luckily George writes crime novels and her hero is conveniently edged back toward his old life by the discovery of the body of a young man at the base of a lonely cliff. Lynley, without an ID and looking for all the world like an itinerant tramp rather than an Earl of the Realm, immediately becomes a potential suspect in the death.

The investigation gathers speed and in short order introduces a group of angst-ridden families all conflicted by rebellious children and controlling parents. There is a mysterious veterinarian, a family trying to re-open an old hotel as an outdoor adventure venue, a surfboard manufacturer, and a hard nosed female Detective Inspector with pressing relationship issues. You quickly realize that most of the characters are, like Lynley, trying to keep the past at bay while coping with the waves of an onrushing present. As one character puts it, "And life continued. A bloke didn't get what he wanted all the time, and that's just how it was. One could thrash around and hate that fact, or one could cope."

Coping for Lynley is based on the shortage of investigative muscle in the outer reaches of Cornwall, He is recruited or blackmailed to assist and when more help is needed reliable old partner, Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, arrives from London. From there on the tangled backgrounds of the participants and Lynley's own crises of the soul carry you on to a finish that may be less than neat for some, but deftly leaves you waiting for the next installment.

For a look at how Ms. George explains her last three works, including the killing off of Helen, one of the series' most popular characters, I recommend the author's web site.

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