Careless in Red by Elizabeth George

It’s been four years since we last caught up with Inspector Thomas Lynley and Sgt. Barbara Havers.   Four very long years.

Four years made longer by the fact that at the end of With No One As Witness, Elizabeth George left Lynley and the entire series as a cross-roads.  Something big happened at the end of the book that left me stunned at the audacity of George to contemplate it, much less pull it off.  And it left me eager for more.

And then we got her last book, What Came Before He Shot Her, which was good but didn’t quite satisfy the craving and yearning I had for more Lynley and Havers.

Finally, we get Careless in Red. 

And it was worth every last day she made us wait for it.

Careless in Red opens a few months after the events of With No One as Witness.  Lynley, in his depression over his wife and unborn child’s death, has gone on a walk and a rather long one. He’s wandering up the British coast, trying to get away from places and things that remind him of Helen and those well-meaning friends and family who are trying to understand what he’s going through.  On the forty-third day of his walk, he discovers the body of Santo Kerne on the rocks, apparently killed while cliff climbing.  Lynley tries to report the crime and soon finds himself drawn into the murder investigation (early on, he’s as suspect, but soon he’s dismissed as such and made part of the investigation, though his role is entirely unofficial).

As she’s done with the last few Lynley and Havers novels, George expands the focus beyond our two protagonists.  George introduces a myriad of characters who knew the deceased, many of which have a very good reason to wish harm to the eighteen-year old boy.  Kerne was part of the surfing commuity as well as a ladies’ man and had burned more than his fair share of bridges.  Add that to mysterious ties to the past by his parents and you’ve got the usual George tapestry of colorful suspects, all of whom had a very good motive for bumping off Santo Kerne.

All of these lead to a satisfying conclusion to the mystery, which I won’t give away here. 

And while the mystery itself is absorbing, it’s the pyschological aspects of the novel that make it compelling.  From a literary standpoint, George is head and shoulders above any mystery novelist writing today because she does more than just present the facts of the case.  She take the time to get inside the lives of each of the suspects, having them be characters rather than simply suspects.  We get to see why they’d each have a myriad of reasons to comit the crime and why they have a myriad of reason to not comit each crime.  In Careless in Red, George takes the time to develop each of the people of the setting into something more than just a standard suspect. 

But the character development doesn’t stop there.  The story is about Thomas Lynley and his journey through the healing process.   When we first meet Lynley in Red, he’s still reeling from the death of his wife.  The novel provides Lynley with a way to reconnect with the world and become part of it again.  Yes, it’s a bit of convienence that Lynley is walking on the coast and happens across a dead body. But that event serves as a catalyst that allows Lynley’s healing process to continue and bring him back to the things of his life that matter–his friends, his family and his work at New Scotland Yard.  You can take Lynley out of Scotland Yard, but you can’t take out his essential instincts as a detective.  George highlights this in a subplot when Lynley assigned to watch and discover more about a mysterious vet. 

And the book includes Havers, who may be my favorite character of the novels.  When Lynley calls her for help around page 200, I was literally cheering.  Bringing the two together is a delight and it’s always a pleasure to see how others outside of the Lynley/Havers circle react to the give and take of the characters.

In short, Careless in Red is everything that I was hoping for and more.  Well-drawn characters, a well-executed mystery and our chance to explore more about Lynley and Havers.  I won’t say this is an ideal place for a new fan to step in, but certainly you could if you wanted to.  Instead, I’d say if you want to find out why everyone loves Elizabeth George, start with her first novel A Great Deliverance and explore the Lynley and Havers universe from the beginning. 

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