The two major characters in the Lynley series are DI Thomas Lynley and Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers. Holding true to the convention that the primary characters need to be opposites, Lynley is an aristocrat from a wealthy family whose lifestyle includes a London townhouse packed with antiques and staffed by a man serveant and who possesses impeccable manners while Havers is a blue collar slob with no sense of style and a remarkably blunt persona. Lynley thinks things through and follows the rules; Havers is impulsive and tends to cut corners. When the series began, Havers was suspicious about being asked to work with Lynley; Lynley was unhappy about being stuck with Havers. Eventually, though, they figured out that they made an unlikely but effective pair.
Havers is actually the one annoying quibble I have with this series. She's always described as being more than a bit of a slob: her favorite footwear are "trainers," she's fond of tee-shirts with odd sayings printed on them, she spends a lot of time in sweatpants. She's also addicted to the least healthy foods available in Britain: super greasy fish and chips, for example, are a particular favorite. Based on her diet and the fact she loathes exercise, she should weigh about 400 pounds but is apparently blessed with a metabolism that allows her to eat like a lumberjack without gaining weight. I can live with that. I've noticed a number of authors create female fantasy characters who can inhale quite a few thousand calories per day and never pay the price. Male authors live vicariously through characters who are remarkably athletic without ever seeing a gym; women write about the joys of unlimited chocolate. The clothing, on the other hand. . .
The clothing is an ongoing issue with Havers's superiors. Comments are made on a regular basis about how unprofessional she looks -- both her wardrobe and her hair style are always a mess. Havers herself marvels a bit at women who manage to look put together, polished, wear flattering clothing, etc.This baffles me. If Havers is a plain clothes detective sergeant now, that means at some point she was a beat cop in a uniform. If she spent a few years wearing a uniform, you'd think she'd have figured out it's not that hard to look reasonably neat while dressed like a grown-up. Maybe her treating every day like casual Friday is a reaction to being stuck in a uniform for a number of years, but it still seems odd. Just like having various supervisors complain about her methods and the overall way she does her job (e.g., bending the rules super close to the breaking point) seems off. If she's a sergeant now, she got promoted into that job. Obviously, if she got promoted she had to be doing something right.
But all that's kind of a digression from talking about A Banquet of Consequences. It's a typical Inspector Lynley novel. There are several plot lines, both major and minor, interwoven. In the first few chapters of the book we're introduced to a young couple (a tatoo artist and a landscape gardener) who have some issues, a feminist author and her editor, another young couple (an acupuncturist and a psychotherapist) also having issues, a female psychopath who has Ideal Murder Victim written all over her, and, of course, re-introduced to Havers and Lynley and what's happening with them. Lynley is worrying about his love life -- he was tragically widowed a couple of books back but is now falling in love with a new woman -- while Havers is walking around feeling super stressed because she's been warned that if she screws up one more time she'll be transferred to a duty station about as far away from London as it's possible to get and still be in Britain. In response to Havers being so stressed, the division secretary has decided that what the woman needs is a distraction, i.e., she needs to get laid. She begins coercing Havers into going on shopping expeditions and trying speed dating. Eventually all these threads begin crossing and, because this is a murder mystery, someone ends up dead.
Actually, several someones. This is, after all, a murder mystery. One of the conventions for any murder mystery is that there's never just one victim. Depending on the author, once one person ends up dead, corpses can start piling up like cordwood. George is more restrained than most -- in A Banquet of Consequences the corpse count is pretty low. George is more interested in what's going on in people's heads and the various relationship problems they're having than she is in having the usual panicked villain running around offing more people in an attempt to cover up the first murder. People are complicated; nothing is ever quite as straightforward as you'd think. Innocent victims turn out to be not so innocent; people who look guilty as hell aren't. . . or at least aren't guilty of what you think they are.
One character in particular stood out in this book, a woman who is so openly neurotic and needy that the fact that she just might be flatout nuts never seems to register with people. It was like the cumulative effect of all the small weirdnesses totally obscured the underlying psychosis and the fact the person was a chronic pathological liar. I kept thinking about some of the crazy people I've known, none of whom were quite as bad as this particular character, although a few came close. It is astounding sometimes just how many giant red flags people can be waving and no one notices. It's like we all so desperately want people to be normal and nice that we convince ourselves they are even when they're busy (figuratively speaking) burying bodies in the backyard in full view of the neighbors. People do horrible things and instead of calling them out on it their friends and acquaintances make excuses. No one wants to admit someone they know -- a co-worker, a neighbor, a relative, a spouse -- is seriously deranged or corrupt or just plain evil. The one thing we humans seem to be remarkably skilled at is denial.
Anyway, in the end, the various complicated pieces fall into place, a suspect confesses, and, from the perspective of Lynley and Havers, that's that. Case closed.
Except, of course, it isn't. Because this is an Elizabeth George novel, there is a twist. There is always a twist, but if you want to know what it is, you'll have to read the book yourself.