For the Sake of Elena by Elizabeth George: B

From the back cover:
Elena, a young, flamboyant Cambridge student, the daughter of a professor nominated for a prestigious post, is found brutally murdered on an isolated jogging path. Frustrated by a rarefied world in which academic gowns hide murderous intentions, New Scotland Yard’s Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and his partner Sergeant Barbara Havers sift contradictory clues to Elena’s elusive character.

For both officers, not until they come to terms with the woman Elena was—Jezebel, victim, iconoclast—will they have a chance of stopping her killer.

It was such a relief to read about a case in the present day and a novel in which the detectives’ personal angst didn’t overshadow the investigation and actually was rather tied into it in a way. Havers was back, too, and her companionable relationship with Lynley was quite enjoyable to witness.

The case itself was interesting if not thrilling, and I thought George did an admirable job of portraying the victim as a multi-layered person. So many negative things were learned about her through the course of the investigation, but I never could forget our first image of her—being kind to her pet mouse before going out on what would be the last morning run of her life.

Unfortunately, many of the other characters involved were thoroughly unpleasant, mostly in the things they’d say to or demand of other people in their lives. On several occasions I had to take a break for a bit because a scene or conversation had surpassed my limits for such things. It’s interesting that I can blithely accept an account of a girl’s murder without so much as flinching, but let the narrative dwell too long on recriminations exchanged between members of the dead girl’s family and I must look away, in a figurative as well as literal sense.

Some of the unpleasantness did serve a purpose, however, as the preoccupation of the murdered girl’s father with appearances helped Havers to realize that there was no shame in finding a place for her senile mother to live where she’d be better cared for. Too, the demands and desires of some of the men in the case helped Lynley see that he’d been focusing on the things he wanted his would-be wife, Helen, to do and be for him, rather than considering what he could do and be for her.

Ultimately, this was a good entry into the Lynley series. I see that the next features Deborah St. James prominently, however, and I fear for a return of her baby angst.

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  1. I hate Deborah so so much. I don’t understand what all these men see in her — she is a whiny little twit.

    I don’t mind the baby angst so much as her complete inability to be productive in any fashion. She doesn’t seem capable of any action except whining and moaning. Character development, plz.

  2. Yes, you’ve described it exactly.

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