This mystery is part of the Inspector Lynley series, featuring the inspector and his sergeant Barbara Havers. I haven’t read the others in the series, and I’m happy to report that it doesn’t seem to matter. Elizabeth George’s work was recommended by a friend and it was a good recommendation. The tale moved along at a quick pace and featured morally complex characters, which all added up to more than just a clever whodunnit. What I liked most about this story was the inclusion of some very timely themes about parent/child relationships, attitudes toward mothers and work outside the home, and the effect of disability on the family dynamic.
The novel begins with the murder of 20-year-old Elena Weaver, a Cambridge University student taking her daily run on an extraordinarily foggy morning. Elena is the daughter of a Cambridge don being considered for the prestigious Penrod chair. Anthony Weaver has only recently re-established ties with his daughter after abandoning wife and child some 15 years ago. Anthony has remarried and wants to make things right with Elena, trying to pave the way for her into St. Stephen’s College and the world at large. But Elena’s brutal murder leads to unsettling revelations about her relationships with fellow students, instructors, and her father and step-mother. The list of potential suspects grows, and given the tense relationship between town and gown, especially between the Cambridge police and university administration, New Scotland Yard and Inspector Lynley are called on to the case.
The inspector is in his late 30s or so, I think. We know that he and sergeant Havers have worked together for some time and have a good working relationship. Lynley has wealth (he dresses impeccably and drives a Bentley) and a potential love interest in Lady Helen, who has a been a close friend for quite some time. But Lady Helen has put a damper on the relationship after Lynley’s declaration of love and is now spending time with her sister in Cambridge. Sister has just had her third child and is suffering from postpartum depression while her husband essentially avoids her. He wishes she would just get over it and love her life of motherhood instead of wishing for her former career as an art restorer. Meanwhile, Sgt. Havers is single and caring for an elderly mother suffering from dementia. This part of the story was very well done, I thought. The author portrays the illness and its impact on Havers with accuracy and empathy. Havers is struggling to find the right kind of care for her mother without being a “bad daughter” and sending her away from home.
Much of the novel deals with various characters’ feelings of guilt — for their handling of family issues, for pursuing their personal desires at the expense of others or simply without regard for the impact of their decisions on others. Hand-in-hand with the guilt issue is the drive for creativity, for meaningful work, for leaving behind something of oneself — be it research, art, or a child. People have gone mad over the belief that they’ve lost the power to create, as one character says. There are several characters whose creative abilities are being tested, and some who feel that their creativity is being thwarted. The relationship of creativity and guilt to Elena’s murder is the fun of the read.
I would like to go into more detail about the disability aspect of the story, but I wouldn’t want to risk ruining it for others. Suffice it to say that dementia is not the only disability featured in this novel. The other disability is handled quite well, including the arguments about whether the disability is actually more of a “culture” than a “handicap.”
All in all, a good read for mystery lovers. I’ll be reading more of Elizabeth George’s mysteries in the future.