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CARELESS IN RED


By Elizabeth George

Harper, May 2008 ($27.95)
ISBN-10: 0061160873
ISBN-13: 978-0-06-116087-5

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

After the tragic death of his wife and unborn son, Detective Superintendent Thomas Lynley literally walks away from his life, resigning from Scotland Yard and wandering the Cornish coast for weeks, sleeping rough, not knowing or caring where he was going. His journey comes to an abrupt halt when he finds the body of a young climber and knows he must take action. In seeking help, he encounters Daidre Trahair, a veterinarian with a need for solitude. They become uneasy allies when they realize Santo Kerne’s death was no accident. Slowly Thomas returns to the real world as his training kicks in. Not officially assigned to the case, he works with the local officials. When his true identity is revealed, some of them are impressed; Detective Inspector Bea Hannaford is not one of them. Lynley may have a stellar reputation, but what she sees is a very troubled man in need of a long, hot shower and a set of new clothes.

He does get that shower, and finds himself being interested in something besides his grief for the first time in six weeks. He realizes Hannaford is a very competent police officer, but, having been the top dog back at Scotland Yard, it is difficult for him to play a supporting role in the investigation. When Scotland Yard sends Barbara Havers to officially assist in the case, he forgets they are no longer partners, and gives her instructions without consulting Hannaford, leading to inevitable conflict.

The local community is small and insulated. Many of the families have been there for generations, and their histories are intertwined. They are not inclined to share their secrets or air their dirty laundry with outsiders, especially the police. Lynley takes this as a challenge. He particularly wants to know what the enigmatic Daidre Trahair is hiding, and although this is a subplot that could have been cut or shortened, what he finds is an interesting look at a part of English culture that is often marginalized.

Much as I wanted to like this book, I was disappointed. It was too long, with several plot lines that added little to the main story, and could have been shortened or cut entirely. There were so many characters that I had trouble remembering who was who. None of the characters were memorable, with the exception of the randy and mentally disturbed mom, and Bea Hannaford, and I didn’t care much what happened to them. It wasn’t just that, though, that left me feeling cheated. There just seemed to be something missing, and I finally figured out what it was. There was far too little of Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers. I wanted to spend more time in his head as he traveled the rough road from total, crushing depression and grief back into the real world, finding that there are still things that matter, and that he still has skills that the world needs. Barbara was assigned to help on the case partly because she and the others he’d worked with were concerned about him, and I would have liked to know more about their feelings.

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