Dutton, 736 pages, $29.95
Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers is the detective I’d most like assigned to help me should I have criminal difficulties in London. She may run a little rough under the hood, but she is smart, loyal, and reliable. She sneers at office politics, disdainfully and grumpily agrees to spruce herself up (you can lead a horse to water, but apparently you can’t make it be fashion conscious), and wouldn’t know proper nutrition if it sat up and begged. What's there not to love?
Which is why I was so disappointed with this book.
My hero, Barbara Havers, comes across like a buffoon in this latest tale in the “Lynley series” (and which I prefer to call the “Havers series”). Has she lost her mind? Apparently so.
When last we left Barbara’s story, Angelina, the errant lover of Barbara's neighbor, Taymullah Azhar, had returned home, to the ecstatic welcome of their 9-year-old daughter Hadiyyah. Barbara was sad because of her unrequited shy passion for Azhar, but she gamely swore to help and uphold the whole damn family. As Just One Evil Act opens, however, Azhar is devastated. Angelina has taken off again, this time with their daughter, and he doesn’t know where they are.
Frantic with trying to help Azhar, Barbara sinks her status even lower at New Scotland Yard by demanding this and nagging about that. Lynley (the stinker) was courting his new love when Barbara needed him most and forgot to return her phone calls. The abyss is deep from the start and Barbara starts digging a deeper hole. Unfortunately, there is nothing the police can do to help Azhar. Angelina is the mother on the birth certificate, but Azhar is not listed as the father. He has no legal rights.
Bollocks, Barbara would say, and hies off with Azhar and hires a private detective. There’s no joy there as far as Barbara is concerned, but George’s readers can spot right away from her narrative that something is fishy in the P.I.’s office. It’s a tremendously long time before there’s elucidation.
Time passes. Azhar is despondent. Barbara is despondent. Suddenly, Angelina and some Italian guy show up and demand that Azhar give back his daughter, whom they claim he kidnapped after Angelina had kidnapped Hadiyyah first. The Italian guy turns out to be her latest lover, Lorenzo, a member of THE Mura family in Lucca, Italy. Eventually, Lynley and Azhar go to Lucca to try and find Hadiyyah. There’s a lot of Italian bandied about, Lynley keeps his calm before Barbara’s storm, and little progress is made. Barbara, meanwhile, is seething in London, having in no uncertain terms NOT received permission to go to Italy.
Early on Barbara hacked at her hair. Gone is the stylish cut everyone labored so hard to force her to get. What’s left is a haphazardly mown lawn. That’s the least of her worries as she increasingly goes off the rails trying to direct the investigation by long distance. Now her acts match her looks.
There is a secondary story whose thread runs throughout the main story. It’s about a nun in Italy who is not really a nun. She is taking care of an unnamed little girl for whom Italian is not the main language. Hmm.
Where’s my blue pencil? Slash the other people in the P.I.’s office. Slash Chief Inspector Salvatore Lo Bianco’s byplay with the officious Publicco Ministero Piero Fanucci. Slash the nun’s story. Slash large animal vet Daidre Trahair’s roller derby antics. Slash most of Azhar’s abandoned family’s story. Slash the loathsome British paparazzi part. I say this even though what I most treasure about Elizabeth George is her fulsomeness and wordy abandon. Normally she creates a fascinatingly detailed world that supports her characters and their story.
Bring back the (mostly) rational Barbara Havers I love.