This is Elizabeth's George's best book so far and I have read them all. The characterisation of Barbara Havers, and the inspector she works with is excellent. The growing relationship between Barabara and Azhar is touching, and there is a valuable and instructive exploration of the racism that exists in our society. The book is also gripping - a very good read, more powerful if you've read some of the others first, as George is good at developing her characters a bit at a time. I hope the sequel to her most recent In pursuit of the Proper Sinner, doesn't take too long.
I'm a fan of murder mystery and read this genre widely. I like the Inspector Lynley books but was absolutely delighted by this storyline and content. The Asian communities in England are not often written about but this seemed very perceptive.
An Inspector Lynley where Inspector Lynley made no appearance, and actually this one was all the better for it. Barbara Havers gets to take centre stage, and I enjoyed that - I had got really very bored with the Lynley/Helen relationship and the whole thing about Deborah and her husband not being able to have children was getting me down, so it was refreshing. There were all the usual things in this that annoy me - principally some of the writing and tone is VERY patronising - but there were all the usual things in it that keep brining me back. I had a think about what they were, since I rarely give this series more than 3 stars, so for what it's worth:
- good, solid, old-fashioned police crime stories with no blood and guts and lots of detective work - interesting crimes, that are gritty, don't shy away from controversial subjects - the politics of policing - alternative points of view. I like this in particular, because you get to see inside the minds of the various suspects and other characters, you get to have one up on the police at various points, and yet you are still kept guessing. Which leads me to the last point - really well-written whodunnits that tax your mind.
So I will be reading the next one soon, and I'm really hoping that poor Barbara doesn't have the book thrown at her after the ending of this one, though I suspect she will.
A writer muzst alwasy be careful when writing about a culture she's not familiar with - no amount of research can cover the little mistakes. For instance, no Pakistani would refer to him/herself as an Asian - lumping all Asians together under this word, Only non-Asians do that! A Pakistani would refer to himself and his people specifically as Pakistanis. (Or would an Englishman, discussing his own compatriots, refer to them as "we Europeans"?) Also, she often brings in Hindu habits into the Muslim world. As such, the whole plot falls flat.
In Deception on His Mind, Elizabeth George eloquently answered all of her critiques who felt that she cannot write decent mystery plots that match her remarkable characterizations. Seeing English society from "downstairs" as it were, the story has more grit than usual and the seamy side of the elite is more exposed as well.The underlying themes of the book include racism, class snobbery, the painful limits that religion can bring, and the constraints of a family's heritage. I have no idea if this book accurately displays modern day English society or not, but it makes for interesting, if uncomfortable, reading. But I thought the best part of the book came in the careful exploration of the social customs and beliefs among the Pakistani characters. It's seldom that an author from the United States succeeds in taking readers into an alien culture in a way that makes that culture more understandable. Ms. George has clearly succeeded in this regard. My only complaint is that Ms. George feels that she has to include characters, once again, who are totally hollow. Those characters seem overdone and weaken the story. There are more depths to real people, even the hollowish ones, than Ms. George is willing to credit.
I did really enjoy the plot of this book as I have done all the others I have read but as with others this one made me cringe at times. I think it is inevitable that someone who is not from the country she writes about may make certain errors in the way she represents people but I think some of the ones her are particularly jarring. The idea that at the time this book was set any community in England routinely used "coloureds" to refer to people of Asian descent is laughable, there may of course be the odd person who does so but here the whole town seems to do so. Also the basic error of attributing a Hindu rather than Muslim religious identity to the Pakastanis who feature is clearly embarrassing. If you are going to deal with the emotive subject of race relations it is important to do some research first!
In this novel, Barbara Havers takes centre stage rather than sharing the detection activity with Inspector Lynley. As usual with Elisabeth George novels, the focus of the book is split between the development of the characters (in this case Havers growing friendship with her nextdoor neighbour and his niece). The murder plot deals with a potentially racially motivated murder in a seaside town. When I began reading this book, I thought that it may have been a disappointment as Lynley was not involved. However, the plot is tense and the characters finely drawn. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys thrillers - it is not necessary to have read any of the other books in this series as the plot and characters are easy to follow.