Tag Archives: English mysteries

Elizabeth George’s latest Inspector Lynley novel, unpredictable as always

A review of Believing the Lie, by Elizabeth George

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

I’ve enjoyed most of Elizabeth George’s 16 previous novels about the life and career of Thomas Lynley, an hereditary earl from Cornwall who has risen to the post of Detective Inspector in Scotland Yard. Like all of George’s characters, Lynley is a finely drawn and three-dimensional — likeable, without being the sort of person you’d expect to pal around with. Her settings, usually picturesque corners of rural England, are engaging in their own right. George clearly does her homework — she’s American, after all — so that her books are popular in the UK, not just the U.S.

Maybe what I most enjoy about Elizabeth George’s writing is the utter unpredictability of her stories. She consciously avoids working in the old Agatha Christie mode of murder tales. For example, consider this passage from Believing the Lie:

“For an utterly mad moment Lynley thought the woman was actually confessing to murdering her husband’s nephew. The setting, after all, was perfect for it, in the best tradition of more than one hundred years of tea-in-the-vicarage and murder-in-the-library paperback novels sold in railway stations. He couldn’t imagine why she might be confessing, but he’d also never been able to understand why the characters in those novels sat quietyly in the drawing room or the sitting room or the library while a detective laid out all the clues leading to the guilt of one of them. No one ever demanded a solicitor in the midst of the detective’s maundering. He’d never been able to sort that one out.”

So, if you pick up a copy of Believing the Lie, prepare yourself for a rollercoaster of a story, resplendent with more than its share of surprises. When Inspector Lynley is despatched to Cumbria to look into the murder of the nephew of a rich and powerful man, you might expect a straightforward tale of crime and punishment. What you’ll get instead is a complex tale of intrigue, adultery, family secrets, betrayal, and a host of other themes involving a wealthy manufacturing family, a tabloid reporter, a stunning Argentine woman, Lynley’s friends Deborah and Simon, and, of course, Lynley’s interior dialogue about his murdered wife. You’ll also witness the untimely deaths of two people. But don’t expect anything to go the way you think it will.


Filed under Detective Stories, Mysteries & Thrillers

Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson

A review of Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

What makes a book a thriller and not just another novel? British novelist Kate Atkinson’s debut in the mystery genre, Case Histories, raises that question. Sure, as in many competently written novels, life and death questions arise, characters develop, the plot twists and turns, and the reader has the satisfying experience of peering through a keyhole into the lives of people who are somehow . . . well, interesting. So, what sets apart a thriller from other novels that succeed in all these dimensions? Let’s try to count the ways  . . .

First, something truly mysterious is going on. In Case Histories there are three mysteries, each of them a cold case the police could never untangle.

Second, the mysterious goings-on typically involve or result in mayhem or murder. There’s no lack of such gruesome outcomes in Case Histories.

Third, the central preoccupation of the protagonist — willingly or unwillingly, professionally or as an amateur — is to solve the mystery. In Case Histories, Atkinson’s sleuth, retired police Inspector Jackson Brodie, now a private detective, becomes embroiled in all three cases and finds them taking over his life.

Fourth, unlike many latter-day novels, there is a beginning, middle, and end to the book, and in the end the mystery is solved. Justice may or may not be done, but the reader is almost certainly left with an understanding of what happened. Case Histories requires the reader to engage in a little guesswork on this score, but this is one of its characteristics that make it a better than average thriller.

Fifth, there are big surprises in store for the reader. In a typical novel, the twists of the plot more frequently enlighten than surprise. In skillfully crafted thrillers such as Case Histories, the surprises are often breathtaking. Atkinson reached for four principal surprises. Two were reasonably easy to anticipate. The others were eye-openers. 50/50 ain’t bad!

Case Histories, which introduced Jackson Brodie in 2004, has been followed by three other Kate Atkinson mystery novels, of which I’ve read two. Atkinson’s compassion for her characters is deep, her understanding of aberrant human behavior impressive. All three of these books are plotted with a talent for complexity worthy of a Byzantine prince and an appetite for a large cast of characters reminiscent of a Bollywood producer. If there are any faults in her writing, they stem from these characteristics, which may befuddle readers accustomed to linear story development with a single, omniscient narrator, and from a sometimes annoying tendency of hers to rely on improbable coincidence.

ISBN-10: 0316033480

ISBN-13: 978-0316033480



Filed under Detective Stories, Mysteries & Thrillers