Everyone’s favorite detective team is back: Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and Detective Sgt. Barbara Havers, in ‘The Punishment She Deserves.’
Elizabeth George’s mysteries are hefty; as I’ve remarked before, they would make handy offensive weapons in a pinch. Take “The Punishment She Deserves” (Viking, 704 pp., $28, available March 20).
But there’s little filler here — not much could be trimmed without ruining George’s finely tuned prose, themes, characters and plots.
This is the 20th outing for Scotland Yard D.I. Thomas Lynley and D.S. Barbara Havers. They make intriguing partners: Lynley is aristocratic, independently wealthy and cultured, while Havers is working-class, rumpled and blunt. They have deep mutual respect and an easy camaraderie; both are also very smart and very good at their jobs.
Here, Lynley barely makes an appearance until a third of the way in; Havers does the preliminary work of investigating a death in the medieval market town of Ludlow.
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It’s not a welcome assignment. Being away from London is punishment for past bad behavior. Worse, Havers has an unwanted temporary partner in Isabelle Ardery, an icy woman and a secret alcoholic.
Ian Druitt, a deacon and a whirlwind of good works around Ludlow, is dead: hanged in the jail while being held on suspicion of child molestation. Although the death is ruled a suicide, Druitt’s father — a local bigwig — demands a fuller investigation.
To Lynley and Havers’ superiors in London, the second investigation should be a pro forma confirmation of the earlier ruling. But Havers’ gut says murder, and she convinces Lynley when Ardery botches the work and he takes her place.
As her intricate plot unfolds, George (who lives on Whidbey Island) finds plenty of room to explore hot-button social issues, including cutbacks in police funding and the problems of untethered youths.
Side note: Extra credit if you spot a sly joke buried in the book — a minor character named for another Seattle-area crime writer.
Meanwhile, this looks intriguing: At 7 p.m. March 19 at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, “The Dark Corners of the City: Literary Murder in Seattle” promises to reveal parts of Seattle that figure in fictional murders. The presenters, both local, know what they’re talking about: Kevin O’Brien is a prolific thriller writer, and David Williams is, among other things, an expert on local history.
Elizabeth George, the author of the Inspector Lynley mystery series, will appear at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 20, at Third Place Books, 17171 Bothell Way N.E., Lake Forest Park. 206-366-3333, thirdplacebooks.com