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.

A Suitable Vengeance by Elizabeth George: C+

From the back cover:
Award-winning author Elizabeth George gives us an early glimpse into the lives of Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley, forensic scientist Simon Allcourt-St. James, and Lady Helen Clyde in a superlative mystery that is also a fascinating inquiry into the crimes of the heart. Lynley, the eighth earl of Asherton, has brought to Howenstow, his family home, the young woman he has asked to be his bride. But the savage murder of a local journalist is the catalyst for a lethal series of events that shatters the calm of a picturesque Cornwall village and embroils Lynley and St. James in a case far outside their jurisdiction—and a little too close to home. When a second death follows closely on the heels of the first, Lynley finds he can’t help taking the investigation personally—because the evidence points to a killer within his own family.

It took me ages to finish this. Well, okay, more like a month.

The chief problem with it was this: the first third or so was entirely comprised of relationship angst. Not only that, it was flashback relationship angst, so the outcome was already known to anybody who’s been reading the Lynley books in publication order. There was some family angst, as well, since Lynley had issues with both his brother and mother. The most frustrating part was that most concerned preferred to ignore obvious problems or feelings. This resulted in a pretty boring story at the start, and I was clamoring for someone to get murdered already!

Once someone finally died, the book improved though the angst never quite subsided. The case focused on a journalist from the village nearest Howenstow, and whether his death was related to personal quirk, some fairly hefty misdeeds, or a story someone wanted to suppress. It wasn’t the most fascinating investigation I’ve ever read (I figured out the victim’s Big Secret on page 230 and had to wait sixty-eight pages for the characters to catch up with me), but the end result was a surprise and I liked seeing so much of the action from the perspective of Simon St. James, Lynley’s friend and a forensic expert in his own right. There was one detail about the solution that bothered me, though. Here are some paraphrased quotes:

Lynley: What about the condition of the room and the missing money?
Suspect: I don’t know. Maybe Red Herring took it.

A few minutes later…

Simon: Lynley, who’d you tell about the money?
Lynley: A few people. Why?
Simon: But not Suspect?
Lynley: No.
Simon: … Then how did Suspect know?! (dun dun dunnn…)

Me: Um, because y’all basically just told him?

Enduring all of the angst paid off towards the end, when people finally started saying what they had needed to say to each other for years. Though it was kind of cheesy, I actually really loved the scene where Lynley forced himself to watch as his fianceé freaked over Simon’s supposed death and then clung to him once he revealed himself to be alive. I think I’m a sucker for the tortured, self-loathing type.

So, yes, definitely not my favorite of the Lynley/Havers mysteries so far (I despaired of the latter’s absence, but she actually did make a brief appearance), but tolerable once the investigation got going. It wasn’t so awful that I’m discouraged from reading the rest of the series.

Well-Schooled in Murder by Elizabeth George: B+

From the back cover:
When thirteen-year-old Matthew Whateley goes missing from Bredgar Chambers, a prestigious public school in the heart of West Sussex, aristocratic Inspector Thomas Lynley receives a call for help from the lad’s housemaster, who also happens to be an old school chum. Thus, the inspector, his partner, Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, and forensic scientist Simon Allcourt-St. James find themselves once again outside their jurisdiction and deeply involved in the search for a child—and then, tragically, for a child killer.

Questioning prefects, teachers, and pupils closest to the dead boy, Lynley and Havers sense that something extraordinarily evil is going on behind Bredgar Chambers’s cloistered walls. But as they begin to unlock the secrets of this closed society, the investigation into Matthew’s death leads them perilously close to their own emotional wounds—and blinds them to the signs of another murder in the making…

While I did enjoy this book, and felt that the mystery was probably the best in the series so far, it had some pretty significant flaws that ultimately kept it out of the “A” range.

In the previous two books, it had been the personal lives of and interactions between the main detectives that I enjoyed best, with the case itself a distant second. Not so with this installment. I appreciated the decision to show Lynley and Havers working together quite companionably now; any further angsting about possible insuitability would’ve been frustrating; the time was right to move away from that theme.

Doing so, however, left a hole that ended up being only partially filled. There’s a subplot involving Havers’s family and also one involving a couple (friends of Lynley’s) who’ve suffered a chain of miscarriages. The former was okay, though its outcome was predictable, but the latter appeared so sparsely that when it did intrude upon the narrative, it was annoying rather than affecting.

The case itself offered many twists, and though I had a gut feeling about the culprit relatively early on, I was still swayed into suspecting various folks at various times. I thought it got a little convoluted near the end, but otherwise it was good.

Payment in Blood by Elizabeth George: A

From the back cover:
The career of playwright Joy Sinclair comes to an abrupt end on an isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands when someone drives an eighteen-inch dirk through her neck. Called upon to investigate the case in a country where they have virtually no authority, aristocratic Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and his partner, Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, grapple for both a motive and a murderer.

Emotions run deep in this highly charged drama, for the list of suspects soon includes Britain’s foremost actress, its most successful theatrical producer, and the woman Lynley loves. He and Havers must tread carefully through the complicated terrain of human relationships, while they work to solve a case rooted in the darkest corners of the past and the unexplored regions of the human heart.

Although I thought the mystery here was better than in the first novel in the series, I still found it to be less interesting than the developing relationship between Lynley and Havers. Payment in Blood was set fifteen months after the events in the first book, and found Lynley and Havers still working together, but not on the same page regarding the partnership. Lynley, in fact, shuddered at the idea of its being permanent, while Havers soon demonstrated that, though he irritated her immensely, she felt a great deal of loyalty to him and would fight to protect him.

I wondered that Lynley did not recuse himself from this case when he found that one of his close friends (he didn’t realize yet that he loved her) was technically a suspect, but the tense conversations he and Helen shared were so riveting that I didn’t mind very much. The resultant jealousy Lynley experienced on finding her there with another man led him to twist facts to suit his conviction that her lover was the murderer. Feeling her superior to be on the wrong track, and desirous of protecting his job and reputation, Havers began her own secret investigation into other areas of the mystery, and eventually Lynley’s friends arrayed against him to confront him about the single-mindedness of his pursuit. All of this was excellent.

The mystery itself was pretty good and featured a more defined cast of suspects than the previous book. The conclusion was exciting, surprising, and emotionally satisfying. And really—who could ask for more than that?

A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George: A-

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.