Elizabeth George, Careless in Red (2008)

I could say I’m very late to review this (one month after finishing it), but if I am to be completely honest, like Charlotte, the truth is that I put it back for long because I didn’t want to confront my disappointment. I guess that when you get captivated by a book series, it’s a bit like when you fall in love, emotions and expectations build up, unrelated to what the author herself wants or is able to do. The move that George initiated in 2005, in With No One as Witness, was already a very strong declaration of freedom towards a cast of characters she created several years before, and more generally towards her fans. She killed Inspector Lynley’s wife and son in an absurd, tragic murder. It was like telling her audience: “don’t get too comfortable, it’s my characters, I do what I want”.

This time around, the murder (or was it an accident) of a young man that fell off a cliff in Cornwall seems little more than a pretext for developing other (numerous) characters and strong themes of marriage, parental responsibility and how too much of parents’ love can imprison children. Even Lynley’s presence in this Cornish setting is almost unnecessary. He’s broken down by his grief and wanders along the coast like a tramp (the time is 3 months after the murder) when he finds the body. As long as he looks like a tramp, he’s a suspect, then, as his identity is cleared, the local police inspector conscripts him to help her investigate. Are we really to believe that? It’s a gross breach in realism, and annoyed me throughout the novel. His usual sidekick Havers comes up very late in the novel, and I hoped things would pick up but mostly the pace was leisurely (which confirms that George is in no hurry to solve the murder while she explored her various themes). It’s not to say that it wasn’t interesting, but I was irked by this, plus the total exoticism of Cornwall (I think all clichés are checked: Cornish pasties, small roads, accents, storms…).

I couldn’t wait for Lynley to stop moping and get back to London for some serious business (read: as usual), but it didn’t happen. So I remain torn between acknowledging George’s attempt to renew her characters and stories, and my expectations for more of the same.

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