Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Reading a Mystery after a Long Break: "A Banquet of Consequences," by Elizabeth George

As I have mentioned here before, I have read a lot of mysteries in my life, starting from the beloved Nancy Drews of my childhood, proceeding to Agatha Christies, and onward. I tend to read mysteries in phases; for a while I read many of them, and then for a year or two or more, I don’t read any at all. I have been in quite a long phase -- several years -- of not reading them, although a couple of years ago I did read the latest Maisie Dobbs (by Jacqueline Winspear). This is all prologue to saying that I recently read Elizabeth George’s latest, “A Banquet of Consequences” (Viking, 2015). After reading a review or two, I just suddenly had the urge to read it, and I read all 574 pages on two days, one of which was a day in which I was sick and stayed in bed all day. Talk about binge-reading! This is “a Lynley novel” (as stated on the title page), as are most of George’s novels, so readers have become very familiar with -- and fond of -- him and his story. Lynley is an aristocratic (but in a low-key way), thoughtful detective with Scotland Yard, and over the years I have been fascinated by him as a character and by his complicated relationships with the women in his life, his friends, and his colleagues. Of course, as readers of this blog probably know, I have a very big soft spot for (almost) all things British, accents and all, and I do prefer English mysteries and main characters. In the early years, Lynley was part of a complex foursome of friends/lovers with shifting relationships, and that tended to be very melodramatic and intense, almost too much so, but nonetheless gripping. George’s writing continues to be intense, but has smoothed out a bit over the years. In the last novel, a tragic event happened in Lynley’s life, and he is still recovering in this current novel. An interesting set of interactions always happens between the patrician Lynley and his colleague Barbara Havers, who is from a working class background and defiantly unwilling to play the traditional female role, which becomes a real issue in this current novel. Havers’ boss, also a woman, puts Havers on a short leash until she shapes up (in her work -- because she tends to be a maverick rather than a rule-follower) but also in her dress and presentation). Lynley and Havers are very close (not in a romantic way) and their relationship is fascinating. Oh, yes, this is a murder mystery, so I should mention the mystery itself! The mystery involves a very dysfunctional family and the family members’ relationships with each other and with outsiders. This novel, like many of George’s, has a definite psychological aspect. Although the author is good at the usual murder mystery tropes – dropping hints but not too many, spinning out the suspense, etc. – and although her mysteries are always satisfying, to me the personalities and the characters are the most interesting parts of her novels. And I love that she is maximalist rather than minimalist, thus the length of her novels. So am I back to reading mysteries, or was this a one-time aberration from my current years-long “no mysteries” phase? I’m not sure, but I will of course post about it here, either way!
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