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Bookends: Multiple Murders Pose a Difficult Puzzle for the London Police December 29, 2013

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Bookends: Multiple Murders Pose a Difficult Puzzle for the London Police

By Dan Davidson

October 23, 2013

– 890 words –

 

With No One As WitnessWith No One

By Elizabeth George

Harper Perennial

640 pages

$14.99

I admit to picking up this book because the actor who played the part of Inspector Lynley in the successful BBC series had been selected to play the part of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache in a CBC adaptation of Louise Penny’s mystery, Still Life. It seemed an odd choice, even though the French Canadian police detective is described in the series as having something of a British accent when he speaks in English.

I was simply wondering if the two characters had anything in common. It turns out that they do. Both of them are fairly patient in dealing with the less experienced and more volatile members of their homicide squads. Both of them have enemies gunning for them from within their organizations.

With No One As Witness is a novel from later in Lynley’s career, the thirteenth in the series, and there’s a lot of back-story that is only hinted at in this hunt for a serial killer.

Lynley’s career choice is an odd one for an Earl of the realm. Acting Superintendent Thomas Lynley is also Lord Asherton, and it appears that his inherited peerage is part of the problem he has in dealing with his immediate superior, the recently elevated Asst. Commissioner David Hillier.

Lynley has comparatively little trouble dealing with his chief aide, Det. Constable Barbara Havers (recently demoted from Det. Sergeant for reasons not explained in this book), except that he has to keep reminding his working class colleague not to keep putting her foot in it. Havers is not a physically attractive person, has an abrasive manner, and an independent streak that keeps getting her in trouble, though she is, in fact, very good at her work.  We spend as much time with her point of view as we do with Lynley’s.

Class struggles and personality conflicts are not the only sources of tension in this story. There’s racism as well. Imagine the plight of poor Winston Nkata, who is promoted to Det. Sgt. and made to be the black poster boy for Hillier’s crazy scheme of embedding a tabloid reporter with the homicide squad while they try to track down the killer.

This decision leads directly to the secondary crime in the book, for a detailed profile on the Toff in Scotland Yard is certainly responsible for the murder that takes place in the latter portion of the book.

Hillier is trying to gloss over the fact that various divisions around the city failed to notice the similarities in the deaths of three black youths prior to the discovery of the posed body of the white teenager that hits the headlines. Hillier fears the press, though there is really no need, since they hadn’t reported the other killings at any length either.

These are particularly nasty murders. The killer is taking trophies and it appears that his mania is accelerating as the list grows longer. He’s clever though, leaving almost no clues, avoiding all the CCTV cameras and somehow managing to leave carefully arranged bodies in plain sight without being seen by anyone.

He’s also quite clearly bonkers, as we can tell from the portions of the novel that are narrated from his point of view.

The story begins with the most recent victim, a cross-dressing youth named Kimmo Throne, who is combining a career as a prostitute with a penchant for breaking and entering. It’s the night of his last heist when he is almost caught by his victims and then becomes a victim himself during his getaway.  This is the first of a number of killings, leading to the uncovering of some that have already happened and more to come. The only constant clue is that most of the victims seem to come from the clientele of an agency that has been established to help troubled youth. Beyond that slender lead, the case is a total mystery, and it’s a mystery made worse by Hillier’s mismanagement of the situation.

For a first time reader in the Lynley-verse there are some complications to overcome. There are clearly relationship threads that have been intertwining for some time now and the background isn’t always provided. For instance, I was a good distance into the book before I realized that Tommy was an Earl, and I never did find out why Havers was demoted, although I suspect some form of insubordination.

There are lots of references to past cases, and one of those would undoubtedly explain some of Nkata’s hang-ups with Yasmin and her son, Daniel. Earlier books would also have introduced us to Havers’ Muslim neighbour and his daughter and prepared us for some of that dynamic. These little mysteries were not enough to spoil the book for me. Indeed, puzzling over them was a bit of the fun.

I’ve had a number of authors tell me that they are the worst enemies any of their protagonists could ever have. After all, they make these people up and then put them through the wringer in the name of entertainment. What George does to Lynley in this book shouldn’t happen to anyone, and I expect subsequent volumes will deal with the consequences.

-30-

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