In the Presence of the Enemy by Elizabeth George

Book description:
When a young girl disappears from the streets of London without a trace, her mother, a well-respected MP, is convinced she knows the identity of the kidnapper—the child’s father. But Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and Sergeant Barbara Havers soon learn that nothing in this investigation is what it appears to be, and that in betrayal and deception, lies death.

Eleven years ago, at a Tory conference, a young political hopeful named Eve Bowen enjoyed a week-long fling with Dennis Luxford, a tabloid journalist with Labour Party views. There was no love between them, and when Eve found out she was pregnant, she informed Luxford that she didn’t want him to have anything to do with the child. Luxford respected her wishes, but when he receives an anonymous letter instructing him to acknowledge his firstborn on the front page of his newspaper or she’ll be killed, his first instinct is to comply.

Eve, now a Member of Parliament and an Undersecretary of the Home Office, won’t have it, however. Her suspicion of Luxford—he’s the only other person who knows the truth about the child’s parentage, after all—and obstinate refusal to even consider that he might be innocent blind her to the real peril her daughter, Charlotte, is in, and the delay ultimately costs Charlotte her life. Inspector Lynley and Sergeant Havers are called in to investigate, and then Luxford’s son, Leo, is taken.

It’s an intricate plot, with many enjoyable twists and turns, memorable characters, and a satisfying conclusion. Among the cast are two particularly infuriating women, though, whom I wanted to take a moment to describe. The first, Eve Bowen, views all events through the veil of what they might mean to her political career. She’s convinced that Luxford is out to ruin her, experiences essentially no grief when Charlotte dies, and is just thoroughly unpleasant throughout. The other, Corrine Payne, is the mother of the local constable with whom Havers works in Wiltshire. She’s convinced that Havers and her son are having an affair, and refuses to listen to any of Barbara’s denials. Plus, she’s manipulative in a feeble, whiny sort of way. I think what gets under my skin the most about both of them is the way they absolutely refuse to listen to reason. Irksome qualities aside, they’re both well-written characters, so this does not actually constitute a complaint of any kind.

Moving on to everything I liked! Because Eve refuses to go to the police, Luxford hires Simon St. James to do some investigating on his behalf, so a substantial portion of the beginning of the novel is Simon, Helen, and Deborah looking for clues. When Lynley finds out they were involved and could have gone to the police and possibly prevented Charlotte’s death, he is livid. And then Helen tells him off for being self-righteous. Everyone’s so likeable and flawed simultaneously; it’s great.

Also great is that Havers gets a chance to shine. Although Charlotte was kidnapped in London, her body is found in a canal in Wiltshire, so while Lynley—assisted by the increasingly charismatic DC Nkata—heads up the London end, Havers is given charge of the Wiltshire investigation, and performs admirably. George does employ the tried-and-true “female detective finds herself alone in the murderer’s clutches” plot development near the end, but Havers proves far from helpless, as does Leo Luxford.

The depiction of the Luxford family is also one of my favorite things about the book. Here’s a man, the editor of a sleazy tabloid newspaper, whom one would expect to care less about the life of a daughter he never met than her actual mother, but that turns out not to be the case at all. He also faces some unpleasant truths about his motives for attempting to toughen up his son, and realizes near the end of the book the tyrannical figure he’s become in that regard. The final scene concerns this family and it seriously made me cry.

I think this may actually be my favorite Lynley mystery yet!

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  1. I can’t believe it, but I had literally no memory of the plot of this book until I was very far into your review. It seems clear that I really do need to reread these books!

    • Michelle says

      Heehee! I was looking at a site earlier that mentioned the culprit of Payment in Blood, the second book, and I was, like, “Whu? I don’t remember that at all!”

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