Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Book Review: A Long-Awaited Sequel

Good news for Elizabeth George fans--Sgt. Barbara Havers is back!  After playing a passive role in the last Inspector Lynley novel, Barbara Havers is back where she belongs, actively pursuing a case and working with Thomas Lynley again.  Spoiler alert--for those who haven't read the previous George novel and intend to, you might want to skip to the last four paragraphs here.

In the previous novel Believing the Lie, Lynley has finally begun the healing process after the sudden death of his wife.  While he is solving a murder in the Lake District, Havers is left behind in London, doing some investigative work for Lynley, but never at his side, as she usually is.  But as the mystery is solved, a crisis appears at the end as Barbara's neighbor and best friend, nine-year-old Hadiyyah, disappears, prompting Havers' fans to eagerly anticipate the next book in this series.

Just One Evil Act picks up where the previous one left off, as Havers frantically begins her search for Hadiyyah, but she soon learns that the police are not going to help, since Hadiyyah was taken by her mother.  Compounding the problem is that Tamar, Barbara's good friend and Hadiyyah's father, was never married to her mother Angelina and has no legal claim on his daughter.  Barbara has promised Tamar, however, that she will find his daughter and in desperation turns to a private detective.

Every lead comes to a dead end, until several months later when Angelina suddenly re-appears in London, frantic because Hadiyyah has been kidnapped from an open-air Italian marketplace and accuses Tamar of the deed this time.   Barbara is able to convince her superiors that Scotland Yard must finally get involved because the little girl is a British citizen, but rather than send her to Tuscany, the Yard sends Inspector Lynley instead.

Just when a happy resolution seems near, a new complication arises that causes Barbara to book a hasty trip to Tuscany, Yard-approved or not.  Only she, she reasons, has the motivation and persistence to see that justice is done, and as it turns out, she is right.  But in the process, surprising secrets are revealed, and Barbara must decide just how far she will bend the rules to protect her friends. 

Just One Evil Act is full of surprising twists and turns and several sub-plots that all come together in the end, as is typical of an Elizabeth George novel.  The last 100 pages is fast-paced and riveting, but the previous 619 could have used some editing.  Seven-hundred page novels don't intimidate me, and I'm used to George's long novels, but there seemed to be some repetition and unnecessary detail, such as repeated interviews with the same suspects,  that did nothing to advance the plot or character development.

This is the first novel in the series in which Thomas Lynley travels out of the UK to solve an investigation.  Fortunately, Lynley is fluent in Italian, unlike Havers, but that brings up another criticism: the author uses a lot of Italian in the dialogue.  While Ms. George may be learning the language (as she states in the acknowledgements), the readers are not!  A few phrases here and there would be fine and do add some authenticity to the Italian setting. But she uses it frequently, and too often the dialogue is not translated or self-explanatory. I found myself re-reading parts to try to understand through context clues and got frustrated when I couldn’t understand what was being said.

I've said in previous reviews of her novels that character development is a big part of what makes George's books so appealing.  Just One Evil Act is full of rich, interesting characters, but some of the major characters change in ways that are not so appealing.  I’m a big fan of the fashion-challenged Sgt. Havers whose contrast to the well-bred Inspector Lynley often provides some comic relief. I was so looking forward to her playing a bigger role in this novel, but she is not quite the Barbara Havers we have come to know and love. Barbara is often in conflict with her superiors (other than Lynley), and she doesn’t mind bending the rules a bit to see that the guilty are punished. However, in this novel she goes far beyond "bending the rules" to the point that one begins to wonder if this normally moral and big-hearted woman has lost her sense of right and wrong.  In her defense, however, Barbara's actions are blinded by emotion--trying to save two of the people she holds most dear.  And perhaps that is George's intent--to make us think how far we, too, might go to protect the ones we love.

You might wonder why I chose this book to review when I seldom offer too many negative comments in my reviews.   Despite the criticism, if you're a fan of this series, by all means, read it, but if you're new to the Thomas Lynley series, I'd recommend starting with one of the earlier books.  The truth is, even with its flaws, Just One Evil Act is still an entertaining book, and any book by Elizabeth George, in my opinion, is ten times better than most mysteries on the book shelves

Frankie and I are still waiting for the snow to melt.

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@Barrie Summy

Disclaimer: No compensation of any kind was received for this review, and I purchased my own copy of Just One Evil Act. As always, I review only books I enjoy and think others would enjoy reading too. 


  1. How strange to have dialogue in a foreign language without translation and if the pace was uneven too, I'd fault the editor as much as the author. Still, character development is good.

  2. I'm nodding along in agreement to your comments --I was really kind of bothered that Havers would do some of the things she did in this book, and I was also kind of disturbed at character developments in Tamar. I suppose it was necessary to resolve the unrequited love thing somehow, but I found this novel more difficult than others to believe in. I did, however, enjoy the friendship that developed between Havers and the Italian detective.

  3. It's pity, Rose you have snow till now. If it melted you would garden or just walk outside. Your Frankie wants too! I did not read this book but I've seen series about Lynley on TV, I'm not sure it is the same or not!

  4. Sarah, I'm surprised, too, that an editor didn't suggest omitting some of the Italian. I read some reviews later on Goodreads and noticed I wasn't the only one who thought this was confusing.

    Patty, She is one of my favorites, too!

    Cassi, I totally agree--I didn't even get into Tamar here, but I was disappointed how his character changed. I'm really sad that this might be the last we'll see of him and Hadiyyah. But I'm hoping the Italian detective (forgot his name) re-appears!

    Nadezda, The snow is melting, but there are still big piles of it here and there that will take awhile. Yes, this is the same Inspector Lynley that's been made into a TV series, though I've never seen it. I'm not sure it's aired in the U.S.

  5. I like a book with lots of false leads. One that keeps you guessing right till the end.
    Love the photo of Frankie....... waiting......
    Maggie x

    Nuts in May

  6. I would have a hard time reading a book that has some Italian dialog and has 719 pages too, especially if not fast-moving. You do a very nice job with book reviews. I read another blog that does this and although I read novels very infrequently, it is from reviews that make be pick one up.

  7. I think all the inherent conflict sounds great. I do agree that it's difficult when a character changes and acts in ways that don't feel right for her. I wonder what it was like for the author. I have to be honest, though, I am somewhat intimidated by 700-page novels. I think because I read so much middle grade and YA! (Harry Potter notwithstanding) :) Thank you for the review, Rose! Love the disclaimer at the beginning and the dog at the end!

  8. I've not read any of Elizabeth George's books yet Rose although I've enjoyed the Inspector Lynley television series. Must remedy the situation soon. Have just finished and thoroughly enjoyed a good 600 pages plus saga 'The Midnight Rose' by Lucinda Riley. Nothing profound but a good read. Hope that the snow melts soon so that you and Frankie can have fun in the garden.

  9. Maggie, I really didn't know how this one was going to end. Frank doesn't like snowdrifts or the cold very much, so he is really ready for spring.

    Donna, I often pick up a book based on a review I've read, especially if it's an honest one. I've had plenty of time this winter to read long books, but once garden season begins, it will be a different story!

    Barrie, Another major character also changed in this novel, which I didn't mention. That one was even harder...I'm wondering where George will go from here.

    Anna, I'm going to have to find the Lynley series on DVD! We're headed for a brief warm-up this week, so I hope the last of snow melts...before the next round hits:)

  10. There is another author I'll put on my list. Thanks for posting it.
    (ツ) from Cottage Country Ontario , ON, Canada!


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