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By Elizabeth George

Harper, an Imprint of HarperCollins, 2010 ($28.99)
ISBN-10: 0061160911
ISBN-13: ISBN: 978-0-06-116088-2

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Inspector Thomas Lynley has returned to London from his self-imposed exile as he dealt with the grief of losing his wife and unborn son. He is on compassionate leave, but he is not sure if he wants to go back to his job. He has enough money to allow for a life of leisure, but is that a life he can be satisfied with?

In this complex, detailed and lengthy novel, George weaves several stories together. Each chapter reveals more about the separate stories, and how they are interconnected.

The book begins with the unfolding tale of three schoolboys from the poor side of town. They decide to play hooky one day, setting off a chain of events that end in a horrific crime. In telling their story, George manages to elicit some sympathy for the boys, who are victims of their own circumstances, some more than others. Still, the details of what happened that fateful day, slowly revealed throughout the story, are difficult to take.

Gordon Jossie left behind a troubled life to begin again in the New Forest. He just wants to forget the past, finding comfort and satisfaction working as a thatcher on the many quaint cottages in the area. He keeps to himself, not encouraging any friendships or other emotional ties, satisfied with only his dog for company. A chance encounter with a young woman who took a wrong turn changes that. Gordon tries to keep his distance from Gina Dickens, but she is quite persuasive, and soon they are involved.

Meredith Powell misses her best friend Jemima Hastings, with whom she'd had a falling-out because of her disapproved of Jemima's current boyfriend. Jemima has a penchant for repeatedly falling madly in love with the wrong sort, and Meredith thinks Jemima's current true love is hiding something. The young women share the same birthday, and Meredith decides to attempt a reconciliation. She makes a cake, a pitiful peace offering to a woman who bakes specialty cupcakes for a living. When she reaches the site of Jemina's shop, she is dismayed to find it shuttered, out of business. She goes to the cottage on the edge of the New Forest where Jemima had been living with her boyfriend and finds a new woman making herself at home. The woman has never heard of Jemima Hastings, but Jemima's car is in the garage and her clothes and other belongings are boxed up in the attic.

Meredith calls Rob Hastings, Jemima's brother, in a panic, but Rob tells her Jemima had broken off with the old boyfriend, closed her shop, and moved to London. He assures Meredith that Jemima has called him several times since the move. He does not tell her that his sister had immediately found a new "true love," and that he hasn't heard from her for several weeks.

Isabelle Ardery has been assigned to supervise Lynley's team in what she refers to as an "audition" for a permanent appointment to replace him. She does not make a good impression on her underlings, taking an aloof, harsh stance. On their first meeting, she orders Barbara Havers to go out and buy clothing suited to a professional woman, and to do something with her messy hair. When she is called to a crime scene in a cemetery, she tells DS Nkata to drive her there. While she appears to be in control, in private moments she bolsters her insecurity with sips of vodka and mourns the two small sons who are living with their father and step-mother.

She does know that she is in over her head in the case of the young woman whose savaged body is found in the cemetery. Her team can barely conceal the hostility they feel toward her, and she knows she can't botch her first assignment. She goes to Lynley and asks him to assist her, and after some consideration he agrees. He can see beyond her brusque façade, recognizing her as another wounded soul. He keeps his distance at first, not sure whether to let her flounder in her own mistakes or gently offer guidance and help. His choosing the second option shows that he is finally ready to start living again.

This is a beautifully written book, one the best in the series. Despite the length and the alternating subplots, the story flows seamlessly. George is a master at creating characters who are three-dimensional and interesting, however large or small their part is in the story.

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