George, Elizabeth - 'Just One Evil Act'
This very full and detailed story starts with Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers desperately trying to contact Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley to urgently report that Haddiyahof, the daughter of her Asian neighbour Azhar, has disappeared and appears to have been grabbed by her mother Angelina and taken, it turns out, to Lucca in Tuscany, Italy. They are Barbara's closest friends as well as neighbours. Azhar, the unmarried father of the child has been estranged from the natural mother for several years and he works as a microbiology scientist with the University of London. He often asks Barbara, when she is free, to babysit with the daughter when he is working.
As the child is with her natural mother, nothing can be done officially and so Barbara, in frustration, introduces Azhar to a private detective to help locate the exact whereabouts of the missing girl. Five months later, the terrible news is received that the missing daughter has been apparently kidnapped when she was in a Lucca market place and got separated from her mother and her Italian boyfriend.
The story gathers pace as Barbara manipulates the tabloid press to report the story and because of the adverse publicity, Scotland Yard decides to send DI Inspector Lynley to Italy as a liaison officer for the British police as he is a fluent Italian speaker and is assigned to handle a situation made delicate by racial issues, language difficulties and the determination of an Italian magistrate to arrest and convict someone - anyone - for the crime. Barbara is upset about his appointment as she is much closer to the father and daughter but she is having a lot of personality problems with her superior officers in Scotland Yard and is just about clinging onto her job.
Barbara Havers (and Inspector Lynley) are described quite differently on the page than they are shown in the TV series. Havers is a sartorial mess going to the office in loud tee-shirts and red baseball boots, and is very obese whereas Lynley is an English earl, with a manservant and a house in Chelsea, who works as a policeman just to pass the time. Havers has a lot of personal difficulties with authority figures (except Lynley) but she has a warm heart and Lynley knows that he personally owes his life to her and treats her more gently than his superiors wish.
This book is a very complex story involving kidnap and murder and a lot of comment on racial and physical stereotyping. A criticism is that the author, in the Tuscany scenes quotes a lot of Italian phrases when local characters are speaking in the narrative, but no translation is provided and this was rather irritating, but the sense is picked up later in the dialogue. Also, she describes a lot of the scenery around Lucca which may be baffling if you have not been there (I have had that pleasure). I suppose as an American author, Elizabeth George, sells most of her books in the US and there are references to Barbara and Lynley always drinking coffee whereas tea would be perhaps be more appropriate for the British in London.
I enjoyed this book enormously, because I have read almost all of the previous books by the author and know she writes her books in a particular style where she slowly describes each individual personality, blending the mix of characters as the story slowly develops. The book could not have been shorter with all the scenes and themes she covers which make up the whole story. It was so good I did not want it to end.
The book was a marvellous read and once started, very difficult to put down until the exciting conclusion is reached. The author has returned to the kind of quality writing which brought her a wide readership and I hope that she continues along this path. In the acknowledgements at the back she announces that she has a new editor which is very good news. I was gripped all the way through this very exciting book and I look forward to reading her future ones. Recommended.
Terry Halligan, England