George, Elizabeth. For the Sake of Elena.

NY: Bantam, 1992.

With the death of P. D. James, George has become the primary writer in English of the “literary mystery.” This fifth book in the lengthy series featuring Detective Inspective Thomas Lynley (who is not only a card-carrying English gentleman but also the Earl of Asherton) and his sidekick, the often belligerently working-class Sergeant Barbara Havers, takes the team to Cambridge University where a young woman, the daughter of a top-level academic. was beaten to death while out jogging one very early, very cold, very foggy November morning.

Lynley is happy to be in Cambridge because the love of his life, Lady Helen Clyde, is also there, looking after her sister, who has just had another baby at her idiot husband’s insistence and isn’t dealing with it very well.

The hook in the plot is that the murdered girl, Elena Weaver, was also deaf, something her own parents never really wanted to admit, and she had become rather a wild child in an effort to demonstrate to Daddy just how “normal” she really could be. But there are several other vehemently individualistic characters, including Sarah Gordon, the famous artist from whom Dr. Weaver had taken lessons (and for whom the creative life is absolutely paramount), and the radical young deaf student who regards his supposed handicap as a separate culture (and who had a thing for Elena), and Weaver’s first wife, who still hates her ex (and blames him for their daughter’s death), and Weaver’s second wife, who is something of an ice queen (and who has no time for her husband’s earlier mistakes).

The author likes to parallel the murder plot in each book in some way with the personal trials of both Lynley and Havers. This time, there’s Thomas’s repeated attempts to convince Helen to marry him, and Barbara’s struggles to work out what to do with her recently widowed mother, who is suffering from increasing dementia. What does a husband, or a prospective husband, owe a wife? What do a parent and a child owe each other? There’s also, as always, the personality contrast between the two detectives. Lynley is unfailing kind to his subordinate, which drives her a little crazy, though she wouldn’t work with anyone else now. He’s also prone to intuitive leaps, which he then has to defend to his sergeant. Havers, on the other hand, is a stickler for procedure and a real expert in “solid police work,” but she also enjoys getting under the skin of any members of the upper reaches of British society with whom her job brings her into contact. This time, both of them also have to face the preconceptions they have as members of the hearing world. All in all, this is one of the best episodes in the first half of this series.


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