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A Banquet of Consequences: A Lynley Mystery, by Elizabeth George.

November 8, 2015
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A Banquet of Consequences: A Lynley Mystery, by Elizabeth George.  Viking, 2915.    (Inspector Lynley/Havers Book 19)

4 stars

Another in a popular mystery series that offers thoughtful insights into a variety of individuals and couples.

Elizabeth George is a popular writer who has published a long series of mysteries about Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley of New Scotland Yards and his assistant, Barbara Havers. I have seen some of this series as Public Broadcasting videos. While I have enjoyed what I have seen, I have not read any of her books previously.

A Banquet of Consequences is a fine mystery, full of suspense, misdirection, and surprises. But it is much more. Like the all mysteries I enjoy most, it explores human nature under the pressure of an investigation. While the murder itself is critical to the book, so are the lives and secrets of the people affected by it. George’s expertise in psychology is revealed in her ability to write effectively about her characters even when their behavior becomes psychological. While fascinating, these were not characters with whom I easily identified.

A variety of characters and subplots are loosely combined in this mystery. Lynley and Havers are involved in office politics of New Scotland Yards as well as moving on in their private lives. (When an office secretary tries to tell Havers that what she needs is sex with a man, I got a bit annoyed, but later in the book lesbian characters are sympathetically portrayed.) A feminist speaker, her woman friend/publisher, and her assistant each introduce their own issues and needs in the book. The assistant is a particularly troubled woman unable to recover from a son’s suicide. Around these central characters swirl her husband and his lover, her former husband and his wife, and her sons and their wives and lovers. Couples form and split apart, face tragedies and loss, and face the critical questions of an investigating team. Some of the behavior described is chilling.  Variations of love and loss echo through the characters who are faced with difficult questions of morality and competing loyalties.

Yet while I found each of the book’s subplots engaging, my major complaint about the book is that it was simply too large to have a sense of unity. Repeated themes and connections were not quite enough to hold the book together. Perhaps the genre of mystery is not well served in a 600-page book with so much happening in addition to the murder.

With this reservation, I do recommend this book to mystery lovers who expected thoughtful writing about varied groups of characters.

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