George writes of gods and monsters with the feel of a Shakespearean tragedy: a murder without a clear motive, characters
who are both sympathetic and repulsive, despair hidden behind a façade of normalcy. A series of characters appear in various stages of relationships: lovers at a breaking point, a family dissembling under the weight of dysfunction, a death--indeed, a homicide.
The case becomes the purview of Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley of New Scotland Yard after Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers lobbies for his assistance in convincing Detective Superintendent Isabelle Ardery to agree. Ardery has Havers on a very short leash, with the threat of a transfer should she exceed the boundaries of her position--a mistrust the impulsive Havers has earned. Despite the tension of Ardery’s interest, Havers, along with Detective Sergeant Winston Nkata, dives into a murder case that has little but instinct and circumstantial evidence to point to a culprit or motive.
The death of feminist author Clare Abbott presents many people and details to be sorted before any sense can be made of the crime.
The mystery is built around the event of Clare’s death. The tenor of the investigation
is exacerbated by the fever pitch of emotions unleashed, a tangled knot of connected people and events from Clare Abbott and her friend/publisher Rory Statham to employee Caroline Goldacre, the woman who found Abbott’s body after an evening speaking engagement. Caroline’s extended family is riddled with troubled relationships; Caroline still grieves the suicide of her younger son, seeking diversion through employment by Abbott. While George keeps her eye firmly on Clare’s untimely death, she vigorously explores the relationships of those connected to Goldacre (a masterpiece of character development as essential to the mystery as the murder itself). Characters move smoothly into place as the plot evolves, beginning with the doomed relationship of Caroline’s younger son, William, and his tattoo artist girlfriend, Lily Foster. After William’s suicide, Lily becomes Caroline’s implacable enemy, each blaming the other for his death.
Then there is Caroline’s oldest son, Charlie, trying to win back his estranged wife, India Elliott, with his mother’s sly assistance. Charlie is undone by his inability to save his brother from self-destruction.
The boys’ stepfather, Alistair, has done everything possible to please his wife, unexpectedly falling in love with another woman, unable to navigate these treacherous waters. And it is Haver’s job to interview them all, to learn their secrets and find the link that will lead her to a killer.
Rich and varied, George’s cast of characters is beautifully articulated, desperate, hopeful and flawed.
Each struggles with life’s random blows, including DI Lynley, treading new territory with an independent woman eighteen months after his wife’s violent death. It is the unpredictability of humanity, the consequences of behaviors and the dark secrets that poison relationships that make this novel so seductive. No one is free of flaws, no one able to escape the randomness of fate.
How these characters react to crisis defines them as the case nears resolution, even that fraught with doubt. George has done an exceptional job excavating the human psyche, layers of denial and self-deceit crumbling to reveal a sad and ugly truth. After the first few pages, I plunged willingly down the rabbit hole, unable to stop until every secret had been
wrung from these people. I needed to know everything, explore the hidden corners of their lives--because a brilliant writer so perfectly captured humanity at its most vulnerable.