With her twentieth installment in the Lynley and Havers series (sorry, I refuse to think of it as anything else), Elizabeth George returns to form with one of the best installments in the series to date.
The last two novels found Barbara Havers getting herself into hot water and on the wrong side of her superiors at New Scotland Yard. As The Punishment She Deserves begins, Havers future at the Met is hanging by a thread and a case in the small town of Ludlow may be just the one that finally snaps it. Assigned to work with DS Ardery and look into the death of a local deacon under mysterious circumstances and damning accusations, Havers finds herself walking a fine line between toeing the straight and narrow and following her instincts that there is more to the case than meets the eyes.
Ardery wants to simply close the book on the case as quickly as possible, for both professional and personal reasons. She’s desperate to get back to London in order to fight her ex-husband’s desire to move her two children to New Zealand and she’s determined to ensure that Havers finished committing professional suicide. The fact that Ardery can’t go long without a drink is slowly beginning to unravel her life on all sides. Ignoring Havers’ pleas that the investigations is overlooking something, the duo returns to London and Ardery orders Havers to leave certain details out of her report.
Caught in a quandary, Havers turns to her boss and partner, Thomas Lylney for advice about what she should do. Lynley decides to take matters into his own hands, hoping to wake Ardery up to the fact that Havers isn’t the only one trying to commit professional and personal suicide with some of their recent choices.
Faced with a potential public embarrassment and an angry Parliament member, the Met has no choice but to look into the case a third time, this time with Lynley and Havers running the investigation. What unfolds from there are small town secrets, characters with blind spots when it comes to family, friends and potential romantic partners, and multiple suspects willing to to whatever it takes to cover up the mistakes of themselves and their family. As with many of George’s better entries in the series, The Punishment She Deserves features multiple suspects, each with his or her own motive for committing the crime. There are also multiple she’s who feel they deserve punishment for their sins — real or perceived.
In short, it’s George at the top of her form yet again. At their best, the Lynley and Havers novels are deep, rich and compelling. And while there is a central mystery to solve, George spends time developing her characters so that by the time the truth begins to come to light, readers have an investment in both the main and secondary characters. Seeing Havers proved correct and her instincts on point is nicely done and while it would be easy to cast Ardery in a villain role, George allows us insight into her to at least understand her motivations, demons and desires.
As with many of her other mysteries, George isn’t just interested in revealing the truth of the situation but also at looking how a crime impacts the community in which its committed. The Punishment She Deserves is one of the best entries in the series and confirms that even after twenty books, there are still stories to be told about Lynley and Havers