With No One As Witness
Elizabeth George has ventured into new and exciting territory with
the publication of WITH NO ONE AS WITNESS, her latest Thomas Lynley
police procedural. This time Lynley is Acting Superintendent due to
the attempted murder of Superintendent Malcolm Webberly, his
immediate super, who is slowly recovering from his almost fatal
injuries. In this role Lynley is confined to an office and must
operate under the thumb of Acting Commissioner Sir David Hillier, a
megalomaniac who manages to alienate everyone with whom he comes in
contact, especially Barbara Havers, who he demoted to Constable.
Hillier barely tolerates Lynley and uses every sly ploy he can
concoct to undermine him; in a spiteful move he promotes Winston
Nkata to Sergeant. "The assistant commissioner's style of command
generally existed on the border between Machiavellian and despotic,
and rational individuals gave the man a very wide berth."
The story begins in Hillier's office when he calls the team
together to inform them that over the past three months four young
boys have been kidnapped, tortured, sexually molested, and brutally
murdered. "The table … held four sets of photographs. In them
four bodies lay … arranged on their backs, with their hands
folded high on their chests in the manner of effigies on tombs."
Hillier refers to them as A, B, C and D, because they are unnamed
and not identified. Unfortunately, too much time passed before
anyone realized that all of the murders are related and a serial
killer is preying on male adolescents. His MO is to dump the
bodies, one at a time, far from their usual "patch" and in
different police precincts.
Hillier is a political animal and understands that the press will
savage New Scotland Yard, and him especially, for not connecting
and reporting these atrocious crimes. He has some devious plans to
present to the group. But the ever-outspoken Barbara Havers "raised
her head … 'Institutionalized racism. That's what they are
going to claim … no one across London --- in any of the
stations involved, right? --- even twigged there's a serial killer
at work. No one got around to comparing notes. This kid [she raises
the photograph of a black youth] might've been reported missing in
Peckham. Maybe in Kilburn. Or anywhere. But his body wasn't dumped
where he lived and disappeared from, was it, so the rozzers on his
home patch called him a runaway, left it at that, and never matched
him up to a murder that got reported in another station's patch.
Cheap murders, hardly worth investigating, all because of their
race. That's what they're going to call the first three when the
story gets out. The tabloids, television and radio news, the whole
But in his unctuous way AC Hillier smugly replies that all is in
hand, and like a carefully rehearsed scene, Winston Nkata walks
into the meeting room. The AC welcomes him as if he really liked or
cared about the newly named Sergeant. What Hillier is going to do
is attempt to turn the lack of coverage back onto the press. He is
planning to use Nkata as a token black officer at every press
conference he can arrange. "With one parent from Jamaica and the
other from the Ivory Coast, Nkata was decidedly, handsomely, and
suitably black." He also is nobody's fool and understands what
Hillier is doing and calls him on it. Nkata may play along for the
sake of the investigation of the murders of black children, but he
will determine when and how.
WITH NO ONE AT WITNESS is one of the few books wherein George puts
us in the minds of almost all of the series's characters. We learn
much about Lynley and how he is adjusting to married life and the
pregnancy of his wife, Helen. She is his center. She is his rock.
He adores her beyond imagination and the feeling is mutual. We
learn more about Barbara Havers and her needs as a woman. She is on
an informal probation because she has to learn to obey orders
rather than go off into her own plan to solve crimes. Winston Nkata
is drawn more fully. His compassion and street smarts come together
when he tries to protect a young teenager who he has come to love.
Lynley's lifelong friends, Simon St. James and his wife Deborah,
are limned with a careful brush that gives readers more
confirmation of their raw feelings in times of catastrophe, and
their empathy is right on the surface along with their deep
devotion to Lynley and Helen.
Away from the Yard is an outreach organization called Colossus.
Ulrike Ellis is the director of this place for troubled kids. First
they are put through an assessment period, which is more or less an
exercise in developing trust; then they have a personal challenge;
next is the trip that they plan as a group; and finally when they
finish this intake routine they are invited to partake of the many
classes Colossus offers.
On their first visit to Colossus, Lynley and Havers get the skivvy
from Jack Veness, the receptionist. He tells them, "Trouble is,
kids can't wait for the payoff, can they? They want the result but
not the process that leads to the result." In this case the process
is a commitment --- from learning to read to learning computer
basics --- with the hopeful result of the youth developing a sense
of themselves and a belief that they have a future beyond the
streets. But the two savvy detectives sense foulness at Colossus
and keep the entire enterprise high on their radar.
Readers learn a great deal about Ulrike Ellis, the teachers of
Colossus, and the boys who frequent it; they all play major roles
in the plot. Is Colossus where the killer observes and then picks
his victims? Or is Colossus really the sanctuary it purports to be?
And what about the staff? They clearly are a strange group of
people. Ulrike has an agenda that can only cause trouble for
herself and for her charges. The secrets harbored in the hearts of
these people are dangerous and pitiless, and their actions resonate
like a disease throughout the community.
WITH NO ONE AS WITNESS is a long, complicated, and extraordinarily
courageous book, and an intellectual challenge. Themes and
sub-themes crisscross throughout the rich narrative. Elizabeth
George pushes the envelope as each event unfolds. She offers a
palette of shadows and light that will keep readers on the edge of
their seats. With her usual aplomb the author transcends the
expectations of genre readers and provokes them to think about
relationships, love, death, evil, hate, hate crimes, racism,
classism, and family. Fans will be shocked at the twists and turns
the plot takes. New readers will be motivated to examine her entire
body of work --- which is stellar.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 24, 2011