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A Banquet of Consequences: A Lynley Novel


A Banquet of Consequences: A Lynley Novel

Five-hundred and seventy-three pages, people.

Yep, that’s the length of Elizabeth George’s new novel, A BANQUET OF CONSEQUENCES. The wind-up alone is so protracted that George’s beloved Scotland Yard detectives, Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers, don’t really begin sleuthing until more than 200 pages in.

But if you’re game for a long read --- and George’s fans usually are --- you will find that this latest effort by the prize-winning mysterian (I made up the word, but it seems apt) is so cleverly structured that by the end we’ve come full circle, returning to the story’s very beginning. And I never guessed whodunit, for this writer, like a gifted magician, makes the reader suspect virtually everyone while drawing our attention away from the real culprit.

As the subtitle is “A Lynley Novel” --- this is the 19th book in the series --- let’s start with him and Havers. The story not only follows their pursuit of the murderer but also dips in and out of their personal and professional lives.

Lynley first. His lady love, Daidre Trahair, a London Zoo veterinarian first encountered in CARELESS IN RED (2008), is so independent that he senses a disquieting distance between them. Unlike the standard intimacy-evading guy, the aristocratic Detective Inspector Lynley (whose wife was murdered a few books ago) actually wants to settle down with Daidre. She is the elusive one, but appealingly so.

"[I]f you’re game for a long read --- and George’s fans usually are --- you will find that this latest effort by the prize-winning mysterian (I made up the word, but it seems apt) is so cleverly structured that by the end we’ve come full circle, returning to the story’s very beginning."

Detective Sergeant Havers is one of George’s finest creations. She is untidy, humorous, intense, fond of junk food, and not your standard flower of womanhood. More significantly, she is apt to go off-track --- way off-track --- when working a case. After the most recent debacle (in JUST ONE EVIL ACT, the previous Lynley-Havers novel),  Detective Superintendent Isabelle Ardery threatens to transfer her to the north of England unless she toes the line. (There is also an amusing subplot involving the efforts of the departmental secretary, Dorothea Harriman, to play matchmaker and wardrobe consultant for Havers.) The problem is that Havers, in striving to be obedient, has lost her investigational spark. So for this book at least, she is allowed to follow her highly intelligent nose, though under the comradely supervision of her colleague, Detective Sergeant Winston Nkata (former gang member, excellent cook and all-around good guy). 

The case itself is so head-scratchingly complicated that I can give only the merest hint of its dimensions in a short review. The most powerful characters are a well-known feminist, Clare Abbott, who has just published a bestseller warning women about the deceptions of marriage, Looking for Mr. Darcy: The Myth of Happily Ever After, and her personal assistant, Caroline Goldacre, one of the most infuriating fictional characters I’ve ever had the ill fortune to meet. To say that this woman is a burden to all who know her is an understatement.

Other frail, damaged individuals in the book include Clare’s editor, Rory Statham, mourning her dead lover and dependent on her Psychological Assistance dog, Arlo (by far the least neurotic character); Caroline’s two sons, Will, who suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome (episodes of uncontrollable, often scatological speech), and Charlie, a psychologist with sexual and marital problems; Will’s girlfriend, Lily, a tattoo artist; Charlie’s wife, India, an acupuncturist; and Caroline’s husband, Alistair, who owns a chain of bakeries. Whew! (And I’m leaving a few people out, mind you.)

The event that sets the plot in motion is Will’s suicide almost three years before the present-day action begins. Neither Caroline nor Charlie seems able to recover from the event, and Alistair and India are both seeking extramarital comfort. Lily, meanwhile, blames Caroline for Will’s death and is stalking her. Family tensions are rising when suddenly Clare dies, apparently of a heart attack. But further investigation reveals that she was poisoned. When Rory, too, is poisoned, Scotland Yard gets involved and the real detection begins.

But the identity of the murderer, in this book, is intertwined with larger themes. First, there is an exploration of what it means to be a modern woman. The spectrum ranges from Havers’ oddball vibe to Dorothea’s effortlessly competent stylishness; from Daidre’s subtly asserted autonomy to India’s attempts to break out of a thankless existence as Caroline’s mousy daughter-in-law; from Clare’s very public declaration of independence to her secret internet life. Plus, Rory is gay; Lily is weird and vengeful; and Sharon, Alistair’s lover, is so real and sweet that she puts the others to shame.

The weight of guilt and loss is also a major issue in A BANQUET OF CONSEQUENCES. Lynley’s murdered wife, Rory’s murdered lover, the unfortunate and self-destructive Will --- these tragic victims put George’s characters under unbelievable pressure. The healthy ones deal with it bravely. The unhealthy... well, that would be telling.

Perhaps the biggest motif of all is motherhood gone wrong. It’s hardly original to say that abuse in early life produces neither happiness nor sanity, but the way George weaves her intricate tale, then shocks the pants off us with searing revelations in the last hundred pages or so, is the work of a master mystery writer.

True, the pacing could be brisker, especially in the earlier parts of the book (it’s easy to lose the thread), and the novel better balanced. Frankly, I wanted more --- a lot more --- of the detectives detecting and less about the massive hang-ups of the Goldacre family. Still, George has never been exactly terse, and she has always been known for the depth and complexity of her settings, plot twists and characters. Her books are never crude battles between heroes and villains. An observation from Lynley sums it up well: “I find that people aren’t all one thing. One rather wishes they were for simplicity’s sake, but isn’t the truth that people are good and bad, simple and complicated, happy and sad, frightened and courageous? It’s all a mix.”

A BANQUET OF CONSEQUENCES has a few too many courses for my taste. Yet it is still a rich and satisfying feast.

Reviewed by Katherine B. Weissman on October 29, 2015

A Banquet of Consequences: A Lynley Novel
by Elizabeth George

  • Publication Date: July 5, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • ISBN-10: 045146785X
  • ISBN-13: 9780451467850