Just One Evil Act
by Elizabeth George
Once upon a time, when I was reading lots of crime fiction, detective stories were relatively short. The crime, the investigation and the solution were wrapped up in two to three hundred pages. Much has changed.
Compared to the works of Agatha Christie or Dorothy L. Sayers, Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George is a monstrous tome. Although I have watched The Inspector Lynley Mysteries on television, I had never until last week picked up a copy of one of the author’s books. From the start, I was impressed by her writing. I enjoyed the background, the switch back and forth from various parts of London to Lucca in Italy.
The two main characters from the TV show, Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers are quite different from their on screen portrayals. In Lynley, we get a better sense of his aristocratic background and personal life. Havers is sartorially more of a disaster, and much more of a rebel than presented in the television series.
At the core of the plot of Just One Evil Act are two kidnappings, a suspicious death, a professional hacker and a very dubious private detective named Dwayne Doughty. When Hadiyyah, the daughter of Havers’s neighbour Taymullah Azhar is taken by her mother Angelina, Azhar asks Havers for help in tracing her. And when, later, Hadiyyah is seized by an unknown man in the market place of Lucca, Scotland Yard, as well as the Italian police are mobilised to find her. Suspects include Azhar himself, Lorenzo Mura, Angelina’s current lover, and a mentally ill would-be nun cloistered in a remote retreat in the Italian mountains.
The child is found and the parents apparently reconciled but Angelina is poisoned with e-coli. Mura blames Azhar who, as a professor of microbiology, is the most likely culprit. Havers does not believe him capable and, in defiance of all orders, sets out to clear his name. Her association with Doughty, the hacker and a disreputable journalist puts her in more trouble until even Lynley begins to doubt her integrity.
Added to the mix are – among others – Salvatore Lo Bianco, a likeable Italian police inspector, Deirdre, Lynley’s current love interest and Bathsheba, Angelina’s identical twin, all making for a complex story of passion, friendship and loyalty.
My main problem of Just One Evil Act is that, at over 700 pages, it is too long. Elizabeth George expends a lot of energy developing scene and character which I feel slows pace and loses track of the crime theme. She is over-free too in her use of Italian, not only in the dialogue but in the narrative. Used in moderation, a foreign language can add authenticity to setting and character, but here the meaning (unless one knows the language well) is not always clear. The reader is forced to pause and (sometimes) resort to a dictionary.
Despite these criticisms, Just One Evil Act is a very readable novel with very human, if flawed, characters and a satisfying resolution.