Review: Careless in Red by Elizabeth George

Title: Careless in Red (the 15th Inspector Lynley mystery)careless in red

Author: Elizabeth George

Publisher: ISIS Audio Books

ISBN: 978-0-7531-3908-0

Length: 23hours, 15 minutes

A few weeks after the murder of his wife Thomas Lynley is walking the Cornish coast in something of a daze when he stumbles across a body at the base of a cliff. His walk has been a solitary affair but the discovery of the body requires him to engage with society once more and he is drawn, somewhat against his will, into an investigation although it is DI Bea Hannaford who is in charge of it.

I struggled through this book primarily because of its length. At 23hours and 15 minutes it’s a lot longer than the average audio book which in itself wouldn’t be a bad thing but there is not 23 hours and 15 minutes worth of story to be told. The body Lynley finds is that of a young man called Santo and the book reveals not only who killed him and why (eventually), but also the back story of nearly everyone he ever encountered in his short life. The pasts of his parents, sister, acquaintances and lovers are all revealed in rather excruciating detail. I think if George had chosen one or two of the characters to delve into more deeply the book might have been more successful but I felt like she made a rod for her own back by trying to give everyone a ‘windswept and interesting’ story. Because of their quantity and what felt almost like competitiveness to be more quirky or perverse than the next one, these characterisations grew tiresome for me.

The plot’s many tangents accounted for the rest of the word count and, most of them failed to add much value or enjoyment. There were tangents about a mis-identified surfer’s pictures on the Internet and one about a woman wanting to become a nun and more than a few about the sex lives of the various players. Again, a couple of these tangents might have been interesting but their sheer volume made them all a bit like an amorphous, dull blob to me. The main plot was actually resolved quite satisfactorily although, annoyingly, the ever-brilliant Lynley managed to provide the essential clue even with his mind occupied elsewhere.

As always with this series there is much made of the fact that Thomas Lynley is an Earl. I have long thought this element of the series probably reflects the author’s nationality as Americans do seem to have a ‘what-might-have-been’ fascination for the inherited nobility they eschewed when establishing their more egalitarian country. As Maxine remarked in her review of this book the ridiculous levels of gratitude displayed when Lynley speaks to a ‘commoner’ with anything resembling decency becomes increasingly grating and incredible.

I imagine this book would be a completely different reading experience for someone who isn’t familiar with the series (I have read all of the previous books). That reader would, I think, struggle to understand the Lynley character as I thought a lot of prior knowledge of him and his life events was assumed (particularly towards the beginning of the book). However apart from Lynley and a relatively minor role for his faithful sidekick Barbara Havers, none of the regular characters (including my favourite, Simon) make an appearance so a reader new to the series wouldn’t have spent the whole book with the same annoyed anticipation that I did.

I know I would never have finished the print version of this book because I would have felt I was wasting my time. Walls and throwing would have entered into the equation long before the end. Being able to ‘read’ it while doing other things made it, just, bearable. The most irritating thing of all is that George showed she can still tell a story and create characters to care about. Daidre Trahir, the woman whose cottage Lynley breaks into to find a phone to report the body he found, is a charming and interesting character and her story is beautifully unwrapped. Unfortunately though there is so much detritus surrounding these good parts of the book that they tend to look like rubbish by association. I sincerely wish some serious editing had been able to tease out the good book buried inside the one that was published.

My rating 2.5/5

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Reviewed by Maxine at Petrona who is sitting on the fence, Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise who isn’t and Terry at Euro Crime who seems, like me, a little disappointed.

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5 Responses to Review: Careless in Red by Elizabeth George

  1. Dorte H says:

    “… the ever-brilliant Lynley managed to provide the essential clue even with his mind occupied elsewhere”
    – but of course! One doesn´t have to read the book to know that 😉

    And the rest is silence until I have read it myself. Don´t know when.


  2. Maxine says:

    Excellent review, Bernadette. I agree with your perspective that it was too stuffed with characters, as soon as I read those words in your review I knew exactly what you meant.
    I read the printed version and the wall idea did enter my mind once or twice!
    My favourite character was Deborah, but she’s petered out a few books ago. I think Barbara Havers is the most successful character, and the one who comes the most alive (of the series characters) – she does not seem to have walked out of the 1930s as Lynley, Helen, Simon (sorry!) and Deborah and her butler Dad seem to have done. Of the later books, I think the parts concerning Havers are the best: funny, observent and astute.


  3. LOL @ Dorte – I’m the same – I don’t read reviews of books I haven’t read but am planning to, especially if I am a little dubious about how I might enjoy the book.

    Maxine I agree that Havers is the most realistic of the characters, maybe that’s why I was so annoyed that she didn’t really feature that much in this one. And I agree with you about the 1930’s feel. At one point the grandfather of the girl who wants to be a nun is explaining the birds and bees to her (I still don’t know why) and I really did laugh out loud at the old-fashioned way it was handled.

    I guess the big question is will there be a 16th book and, if so, will I read it?


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  5. Linda says:

    Maxine…. finally, a review of “Careless in Red” that doesn’t love it just because Elizabeth George has written books before and, therefore, can do no wrong. I ended up having to keep a list of so many characters, and how they were (or weren’t) relevant to anything in the story. Waaaaayyyyy to long. A book should not become a contest to see how many tangents one can throw in. It would have been better to provide just a handful of characters, each with enough depth, to still maintain a “whodunit” mystery.


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