From the back cover:
To this day, the low, thin wail of an infant can be heard in Keldale’s lush green valleys. Three hundred years ago, as legend goes, the frightened Yorkshire villagers smothered a crying babe in Keldale Abbey, where they’d hidden to escape the ravages of Cromwell’s raiders.
Now into Keldale’s pastoral web of old houses and older secrets comes Scotland Yard Inspector Thomas Lynley, the eighth Earl of Asherton. Along with the redoubtable Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, Lynley has been sent to solve a savage murder that has stunned the peaceful countryside. For fat, unlovely, Roberta Teys has been found in her best dress, an axe in her lap, seated in the old stone barn beside her father’s headless corpse. Her first and last words were, “I did it. And I’m not sorry.”
Yet as Lynley and Havers wind their way through Keldale’s dark labyrinth of secret scandals and appalling crimes, they uncover a shattering series of revelations that will reverberate through this tranquil English valley—and in their own lives as well.
I was quite surprised to discover, about halfway through this book, that Elizabeth George is American. I never would’ve guessed, as it seemed such a quintessentially English mystery to me. Stylistically, her writing reminded me of P. D. James: thorough, easily-visualized descriptions of places and people; well-defined detectives with class differences; and lots of words that required me to seek out the dictionary. Favorite new word: armigerous. One just has to love the way people talk in these books, too. A normal person might say “I’m just in time!” Here, however, an aristocratic lady appearing in time for breakfast exclaimed, “What a propitious arrival I’ve affected!”
While the mystery itself was okay, what really made the book special was the relationship between Inspector Lynley and Sergeant Havers. He’s an Earl, Eton-educated, and a “golden boy” with a reputation for appreciating the ladies. Havers, from a working-class background, is described as truculent and termagant (another for the dictionary!) and had actually been demoted back to the street on account of difficulties she’d had getting along with the inspectors with whom she’d previously been paired. I loved that the first appearance of Lynley is seen through Havers’ eyes: “He was the handsomest man she’d ever seen. She loathed him.” Hee hee. Watching them getting to know one another as they worked the case was of equal importance to the case itself.
About the only thing I didn’t like was the obnoxious American tourist with a propensity for demanding to be told “the poop.” I realized he was there to make our heroes cringe and all, but egads, he was repellent.