Georges latest high-quality mystery proves entertaining

Those who need an entertaining book to keep them intellectually occupied indoors on these cold winters nights are in luck.

At slightly more 700 pages, Elizabeth George’s latest in her Inspector Lynley series, “Just One Evil Act” (Penguin Group, 2013), will certainly fill the bill for those who enjoy high-quality mysteries.

It impresses me that George, an American, captures the language and setting of England so well in her best-selling series – and half of “Just One Evil Act” is set in central Italy in the charming town of Lucca.

Readers of the Inspector Lynley book – and they are legion – will be pleased to learn that “Just One Evil Act” focuses on Detective Inspector Barbara Havers, the Lieutenant Columbo of the British police force. (Remember the rumpled role that Peter Falk played on television?) In earlier books, Havers, Lord Lynley’s constant partner, seemed to exist largely as a contrast to his lordship. Havers is certainly not upper class, not, we are led to believe, particularly good-looking and dresses remarkably poorly at all times. Nevertheless, she is a brave and dedicated policewoman who has assisted Lynley in solving numerous high-profile cases.

But detective Havers profoundly rebels against authority, a trait that has gotten her into trouble in past novels. In “Just One Evil Act,” she takes her defiance to extremes and goes rather berserk when her neighbor’s child is kidnapped in Italy. This makes for much entertaining drama both in London and in Italy. Even Lord Lynley, her faithful defender, finds that he can no longer countenance Havers’ willingness to step over the line again and again in her defense of her neighbor and his missing child.

This is a greatly entertaining novel featuring many surprises and a healthy dose of the rich character development readers have come to expect from George. In a twist that I have seen in several recent books, George offers a good smattering of Italian when our protagonists visit Italy, none of which is translated for readers. But, to be fair, the story is still completely understandable given the context. My only quibble is that some of the denouements are highly improbable, which rather diminishes the overall plausibility of the plot.

“Just One Evil Act” would be a great selection for any book club that enjoys a good mystery or solid work of fiction, given enough lead-time for such a long book. Readers should find it refreshing to devour a modern mystery with little violence that relies instead on the richness of the characters and their internal struggles.

Leslie Ashmore is a longtime Mountain View resident who belongs to two book clubs.

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