Something to Hide (Inspector Lynley #21), by Elizabeth George

Something to Hide by Elizabeth George

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A mystery and police procedural derailed by the author’s stumbling (repeated) attempt at conveying an important message

I used to be a huge fan of the Inspector Lynley mysteries by Elizabeth George as they were always suspenseful, exciting, interesting, serious and, sometimes, unobtrusively presented ideas about social issues as well. The mystery always came first, though.

This worked very well for the first 12 books in this series. In book 13, though, George killed off an important character and used book 14 to explore what led to this murder – and derailed the entire series. Since that book, most of George’s “mysteries” are actually prolonged social commentaries with the actual mystery and police procedural parts playing a “supporting role” only.

Social commentary is fine and can actually add to and even improve a mystery. However, it takes a special sensitivity and caution in order to integrate it “seamlessly” into the story. This is where greater authors than Elizabeth George may succeed whereas she, almost tragically, keeps trying and failing to convey her “message”.

This is also the case in “Something to Hide” in which Lynley and his colleagues are first mentioned in part two of the book – when one fifth of the book is already gone. Which is all the more sad as they would have had the potential to actually “save” this book: Winston Nkata is the same unpretentious good cop with a big heart and a good sense of humour as ever. Barbara Havers is… Barbara – in the best and worst possible sense.

Once more, Deborah St. James and her husband, Simon, are part of the story but they, too, have been relegated to the background mostly. Deborah is a bit more present as she’s creating a book with photos of victims of female genital mutilation (FGM).

Which is, in fact, the primary topic of this book: Lynley investigates the murder of a colleague who was both mutilated herself and was working on a task force to combat FGM in London.

Now, to put things straight before I proceed: Female genital mutilation is a horrible, disgusting procedure with no other purpose than to oppress and keep down the women so abused. It is rightfully outlawed in many countries and should be outlawed universally as it is in direct violation of basic human rights.

Sadly, this book does nothing to further that cause: Elizabeth George is just not good enough an author to actually make a difference. And, in fact, towards the end of the book she makes Lynley say the following:

»“It’s easier, isn’t it, to see things as Teo Bontempi did: in black and white. If there’s no grey area to think about, a decision appears simple.”«

This is meant as a criticism of the murder victim, Teo, the cop who worked against FGM. There simply is no “grey area” with respect to FGM – neither in the book nor in the world is there anything but a moral imperative to oppose FGM. That George actively and wilfully sabotages this disgusts me.

As for the book, it was mostly boring: For the first ten percent of it, simply nothing happens apart from setting the stage for FGM and adding the other “prerequisites” for a “Georgian” mystery-gone-social commentary: domestic violence, (at least) two dysfunctional marriages, a child with severe disabilities and other major and minor conflicts which add only to the page count but not the story.

The story about the murder of Teo Bontempi is lacklustre at best and, to me at least, not convincing at all. It’s also taken ransom by all the other narrated conflicts and there’s no chance for actual suspense to build.

Lynley’s complicated relationship with Dairdre takes some room as well and, almost as a side note, Barbara’s love interest from an earlier book, Salvatore Lo Bianco, makes a short appearance, too.

Last and least, I was disappointed with the writing: George used to write in clear, razor-sharp prose with intricate sentence structure and great style. At least during part one of this book, nothing of that is left. There were actually some sentences which made me wonder if that’s actually correct English (I’m not a native speaker).

All in all, I was constantly considering simply quitting this book and only soldiered on to get to the end of what is probably going to be my last Lynley novel…

Two out of five stars.

Ceterum censeo Putin esse delendam

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