A good friend (and fellow Lynley and Havers fan) used to say that she looked forward to each new Elizabeth George novel because it offered her the chance to catch up with some old friends. I have to admit that I agreed with her at the time and it still holds true today. George writes a compelling mystery, but it’s the strength of her characters that keeps me coming back to her books time and again.
No where is that more the case than with the latest entry in the series Just One Evil Act.
Picking up where Believing the Lie left off, Evil Act gives center stage to Barbara Havers. Ath the conclusion of Lie, it was revealed that the former lover of Taymullah Azhar and mother to Hydiah had vanished without a trace with Hydiah. Becuase Azhar never married the mother nor was recognized as Hydiah’s father, he has little or no legal recourse is determining where his daughter has gone or in getting her back. Instead, he is forced to turn to private detectives and less than above board means to try and reunite with his daughter and possibly see her return home to him.
Six months later, the mother shows up in London, accusing Azhar of kidnapping their daughter. It seems that someone has taken Hydiah from the Italian marketplace where she and her new lover (and father to her child) shopped each week. Havers is desperate to find a way to help Azhar and get Hydiah back, eventually trying to pressure Scotland Yard to jump into the case by leaking details to a tabloid journalist and forcing the hand of her superior, Isabelle Audrey. Audrey reluctantly goes along but instead of sending Havers to Italy, she sends Lynley.
As events continue to escalate, Havers is forced to go further and further to try and cover her tracks in her attempts to help Azhar. Interestingly, the novel examines issues of trust in the novel and continually asks you to question who you believe and why you believe them. In the case of Barbara, if you’re a long time reader of the series, you can’t help but begin to feel (as Lynley does) that at some point she’s got to wake up and smell the coffee. Multiple clues point to Azhar’s involvement and potentially ulterior motives in the case, but Barbara is so blinded by her attraction to Azhar and her love for Hydiah that she refuses to believe them or won’t examine them until she gets a chance to talk to Azhar in person.
Meanwhile, it seems as though Barbara is more and more willing to throw her entire career out the window instead of coming clean to Lynley or trying to make things right.
The novel seems to adopt the world-view of one Gregory House in that “Everyone lies” because there are lots of lies going on here, all told with good (for the most part) intentions and intended to achieve what each character perceives as a positive outcome to things (or at least so they imagine).
It all makes for a fascinating, compelling novel, even if (as I’ve seen several other reviewers complain) a murder doesn’t happen until close to halfway through the novel. I feel like many of these complaints are missing the forest for the trees. While George can craft a solid mystery, at this point the Lynley and Havers novels are more than about being a simple “whodunnit?” and intended to be more about the impact certain evil acts can have on the community and the characters.
If you approach the novel from that perspective (as I did), you are likely to love just about every minute of this novel. I will admit the ending left me a bit flummoxed, feeling a bit like George trying too hard to push a reset button of sorts instead of really following through on some of the potential consequences of choices and actions made by characters in this book. But I reserve too much judgment on that until the next novel in the series gets a chance to address these things and possibly offers us some more insight into the fallout.