With No One As Witness by Elizabeth George
|With No One As Witness by Elizabeth George|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A well-plotted and well-written book in the Lynley and Havers series dealing, for the first time, with a serial killer. The book is a good read, but over-long.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 644||Date: June 2005|
|Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd|
The serial killer had been at work for some time before anyone noticed. Sometimes even the parents didn't realise that their son was missing. The boys were all in their early teens, usually they'd been in trouble with the police and they were of mixed race. The murders took place in different parts of London and the bodies were mutilated. When Acting Superintendent Lynley is given the case he has to contend with the trauma and pressure of further boys being murdered as well as the political pressures within a Scotland Yard striving to prevent a charge of institutionalised racism being made by the media.
I'd just about decided to give up on Elizabeth George and her Lynley and Havers detective novels. Lynley is a suave, Bentley-driving Earl who is a policeman because he wants to be. Barbara Havers is his opposite in every way. Early books in the series made good reads, but recent novels seemed to concentrate far too much on the private lives of the main characters with the investigative side coming a poor second. "With no one as witness" was Elizabeth George's final chance and I'm glad I took the risk.
The underlying theme of the book is racism within the police force. It's frighteningly easy to see how the individual murders of boys in their early teens were not linked as some of the boys remained unidentified until well into the enquiry. To the local police the body was just another tearaway who'd got himself into trouble and whom no one would miss. Would there have been so much publicity about the disappearance and murders of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells if they'd been mixed-race boys of approximately the same age?
Realisation that the connection should have been made earlier puts Scotland Yard on the back foot and the powers-that-be promote black Winston Nkarta to Detective Sergeant and he accompanies the Assistant Commissioner to news conferences. There's a complete disregard of how Nkarta feels about being the token black to appease the media. The defence against the charge of racism effectively proves it. There's an insensitivity to race issues which would seem to echo how the Stephen Lawrence murder enquiry was handled. I'd like to think that the intervening thirteen years have brought about a change in police and public attitudes, but I lack any confidence that this is the case.
This is the first time that Lynley has been on the trail of a serial killer. Determined to prove that everything possible is being done to arrest the murderer a profiler is brought in, over Lynley's head and against his wishes. By studying details of the crimes which have been committed predictions can be made about the perpetrator and what might happen next. I hadn't appreciated the extent of the guidance which can be given by profilers, or, indeed the decisions an investigator has to make as to the extent of access to the crime scene and evidence which is to be allowed to the profiler. They're difficult decisions to make and I found the background to this point fascinating.
Elizabeth George conveys the pressures of the investigation well. In a normal enquiry the murder has been committed and the investigator only has the responsibility of unearthing the perpetrator but it's rather different when a serial killer is at work. The pressures applied by the media, the public and superior officers within the force put responsibility for allowing further murders to take place on the shoulders of the investigators. There were times when I felt the pressure on Lynley and his team was almost unbearable, particularly when ruthless budgetary restraints were applied. If you're a fan of the details of police procedural novels - where you get the details of how the police work the investigation - then you will love this book. It's all there.
In a case involving young boys it would be surprising if paedophilia didn't rear its ugly head. It's covered with as much sensitivity as possible given the circumstances, but it's one of the reasons why I'd regard this book as adult reading. Another is the language. Some - particularly from Barbara Havers - is basic and beyond colourful! There were certainly a few phrases there that I'd never heard before and probably won't be sorry if I never have cause to hear them again. I'd be happy to give the book to a mature adolescent, but I think a parent should read it first and make their own judgement.
Characters are well-developed and I had it clear in my mind as to who-was-who early in the story. Whilst not strictly a "closed room" murder it became obvious fairly quickly that the murderer was likely to be one of a limited number of people and a convincing case could be made against each. The book is well-populated. If you read a P D James book featuring Adam Dalgliesh you'll find that the author concentrates on a limited number of people. Elizabeth George develops the suspects and their friends and families as well as some of the victims. The characters who appear throughout the series continue to develop. The book could be read as a stand-alone novel, but knowledge of what's gone on in earlier stories does make it more enjoyable.
The plot began slowly and for the first fifty pages or so I did wonder if I would get into it. Persistence paid though and I read the last three hundred pages in one sitting, avid to know what was going to happen next. I didn't guess the name of the murderer. Once you're into the story it's very easy reading. Elizabeth George has a good ear for dialogue and there's plenty of it.
If I have to make a criticism it's that I think the book is overlong. At 644 pages in a hardback book it's almost the blunt instrument so beloved of crime novelists. I think a hundred pages could have been culled without greatly affecting the plot. I'm still glad that I took the chance though.
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