By Tom Nolan

Once upon a time detective fiction series afforded readers' dependable visits to self-contained worlds (Nero Wolfe's brownstone, Philip Marlowe's office). Despite periodic crisis or a changing calendar, things and people stayed more or less the same. But times and tastes have changed. In this chancier millennium, readers know not to count on a forever stable series universe.

So it is that a disconcerting sense of unease permeates American author Elizabeth George's "With No One as Witness" (HarperColllns, 630 pages, $26.95), the 14th chronicle of New Scotland Yard Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and his police colleague Barbara Havers. Marriage and impending fatherhood have Lynley feeling vulnerable and ineffectual in the face of evil, he tells his partner: "I'm losing the will to keep doing this, Havers." She, for her part, despairs of ever getting back in the good graces of the manipulative, obnoxious superior who has demoted her from detective-sergeant to constable. Haver's prescription for survival: "Let's just muddle through today." Testing both cops' mettle is a string of grotesque murders of adolescent males, perpetrated by a serial killer who enjoys taunting his pursuers. While the framework is familiar, Ms. George provides enough, twists and shocks in this detailed police-procedural to startle and satisfy even the most jaded reader.


Copyright 2005 The Wall Street Journal