Thursday, February 4, 2010

a review of "Payment in Blood" [9]

Payment in Blood by Elizabeth George
(Bantam Books, ISBN 0-553-05701-4)

At the Scottish manor house of Westerbrae, in the middle of a winter storm, a group of theater folk from London have gathered to rehearse for an upcoming new play. The author, the actors, including several that are national legends, the wealthy, powerful producer and the small staff of the house are all gathered, isolated by the extremely remote location and the terrible weather. So when, the next morning, the beautiful playwright is found brutally murdered, there is no question but that the murderer is still there in the house.

Local police arrive, but within hours, for reason that are not immediately clear, Scotland Yard Inspector Thomas Lynley and his assistant, Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers are called in from London to take over the investigation. Under the circumstances, this is very unusual and it seems that there may be something else going on here besides a simple murder investigation. Soon Lynley realizes, not only must he attempt to solve this crime and find the murderer, but he must also try to figure out what other issues are in play here and how his own career may be in jeopardy. Luckily, he is not alone but accompanied by his friend, forensic scientist Simon Allcourt-St. James and DS Havers. In this, the second book in the series, Havers and Lynley have been working together for 15 months and not without problems. For Havers, almost all
"life's central problems- from the crisis in the economy to the rise in sexual diseases- all sprang from the class system, fully blown and developed, a bit like Athena from the head of Zeus."

Especially since her boss is not only Scotland Yard Inspector Lynley but is also Lord Lynley, the eighth Earl of Asherton, this has caused some problems in their working relationship. Still, it seems she is starting to warm up to him....and he will be very happy that she is watching his back.

"Barbara heard Lynley laugh, saw him lean against the car, fold his arms, and take a moment to engage the group in friendly conversation. How like him, she thought. He's had all of three hours sleep in the last thirty-three, he's facing the fact that half of his world may be as good as in ruins, and still he takes the time to listen to children's chatter. Watching him with them- fancying from this distance that she could see the lines of laughter round his eyes and the quirky muscle that crooked his smile- she found herself wondering what she might actually be capable of doing to protect the career and integrity of a man like that
Anything, she decided, and began her walk to the Tube."

In a way, this book has two very distinct parts. The first, when all are isolated in the manor house, and the police interviewing all the suspects, has almost the feel of an Agatha Christie mystery. Unfortunately, not one of Christie's best, since George is not quite able to pull it off. There is a large and rather confusing cast of characters, all introduced at once, with connections that are not always clearly explained. With that many people, I think it is very important to clearly paint each person and that does not happen. For example, at one point I realized that we did not get a physical description of a major character until page 130, but which point I was rather confused by the whole cast.

The second half of the book, when the investigation moves back to London and out to various part of the countryside, improves, but I am afraid for me it was a bit too little, too late. I was still interested enough in who had committed the crime to soldier on to the end of the book but it was a rather long and wordy path and I admit I skipped over some bits.

On the other hand, the series introduces an appealing cast of characters in Lynley, Havers and St.James, with an interesting and rather unusual relationship that I would like to check out in another book in the series. So while I can't say that I loved this book, for that reason alone, I have not given up checking out another.

As an aside, I first became aware of this series from watching a few DVDs of this series which played on British TV. Which I enjoyed a good deal and may also be another reason I be willing to try another one of the books. But what I find so interesting is that the actors in the TV version have NO similarity to how the characters of Lynley and Havers are described in the book. St. James actually changes gender, being portrayed as a woman in the TV version, which totally changes the friendship with the Inspector. I just hate when they do that and I just wonder why they do it....

Any other readers of this series out that that might have a different opinion?

My thanks to the local library system for the loan of this book.


  1. I've read at least two from this series b(Careless in Red, With No One as Witness), and I loved them both. Lynley is a seriously damaged person, and I've gotten attached to his vulnerability. I'm a little bummed that the book didn't do much for you. I'm thinking that just the mere fact that I am hanging out with these characters again would be enough to sustain me.

  2. This is, as I said, an early book in the series, and some reviews that I ready after I wrote this suggest that the books improve as the series goes on. Which is another reason I have not given up on it...yet.

  3. Too bad it wasn't that good. I love the whole "locked house and one of us is the murderer" type books ... but too many characters with too little info would make that hard to pull off.

    And I'm glad we don't have a blood-based monetary system. That would be messy and painful. (That lame joke is an allusion to the title ... in case you are saying "WHAT???")

  4. I think I'll skip this one - thanks for your review.

  5. unless we were all vampires...

  6. Oh... I love this series. I've read them all IN ORDER, and except for What Came Before He Shot Her, i really have enjoyed the progression of the characters. That said, I HATE the PBS series but if I can disassociate from the books, the TV show isn't bad....It's just not Lynley.

    In fact, it's been so long since I watched any of them, I had'nt realized they made St. James a girl...are you sure they weren't talking about St James' wife Deborah?

  7. see, I watched the TV show first..and you are right. the two Lynleys are not the same characters which just miffs me to no end.
    maybe the TV show has ruined the books for me somehow...

    and yes, it has been awhile but I am pretty darn sure in the TV show St.James was a woman, and not the wife.

  8. I felt totally different about this book when I read it. The atmosphere was charged, and the character development was very good. It's curious that you didn't mention Lynley's jealousy over Helen's involvement with someone else. When he realizes that Helen has slept with another man, his buried feelings become very apparent to himself, and he's very jealous. That was part of the highlight of the book. I thought it was exceptionally well-written and enjoyable.

    The later books in this series are irritating, because several of them deal with very inner-city types, and the dialogue and seediness are overdone.

    Beth from Minnesota

  9. Also, the PBS series might be okay, but only if you haven't read the books. Havers is supposed to be dumpy and a terrible dresser, and Lynley was supposed to be blond and aristocratic. The perfect person to play Lynley would be the British actor James Wilby.


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