The Wall Street Journal

Careless In Red by Elizabeth George
Reviewed by Tom Nolan

Itís The family -- that cauldron of solidarity and rebellion, loyalty and betrayal -- looms large in the mystery novels of Elizabeth George. True to form, "Careless in Red," set along the rugged coast of Cornwall, features a number of trouble-fraught families whose members are pitted against one another as often as they are entangled in the intrigues of rival clans.

There are, for instance, the Kernes, whose patriarch is determined to turn a decrepit old resort-hotel into a destination vacation spot, with or without the help of his flagrantly unfaithful wife and their two grown children. The Angarrack brood is led by a man who runs a surfboard shop without the participation of either his hapless son or his sullen daughter. In the neighborhood is a veterinarian named Dairdre Trahair, whose family is remarkable in that there seems to be no trace of it. As for Thomas Lynley of New Scotland Yard -- Ms. George's well-born, familiar series hero -- he is not in a good way. The shocking death of his pregnant wife -- an out-of-the-blue event that came at the end of a previous novel -- has caused him to take seemingly permanent leave from the Yard while he hikes the Cornish countryside in an agony of grief.

Once the inspector happens upon the body of a young cliff-climber, though, he is drawn into a murder investigation. Soon he is receiving (or ignoring) orders from the local police honcho, a divorced woman whose work relationship with her policeman ex-husband is vexed by friction over time spent with their teenage son.

When not grappling with their own problems, the cops try to answer questions surrounding the murder victim: Was he killed because of his callous treatment of a local girl he'd used and spurned? Might one of his own relatives have turned on him in pathological rage? Or could his death be the retributive result of much earlier events, half-buried in the generational past? It's not long before Inspector Lynley summons for assistance his "longtime partner and fractious friend" in crime-solving, Detective Sgt. Barbara Havers.

Even with Havers's aid, Lynley finds things hard going. "Cornwall had always been a lawless place," one of its inhabitants notes; and its occupants tread their own paths, carrying painful secrets and vengeful thoughts. "He longed for simplicity where there was none," Lynley realizes. "He longed for answers that were yes or no instead of an infinite string of maybe." But answers arrive in their own good time, resolving matters in a satisfying but open-ended manner, in keeping with Ms. George's psychologically nuanced approach to the evils that lurk within the family circle -- and also the chances for redemptive love.

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