Written by Elizabeth George — Some books are a short, sharp satisfying experience – think that after-work pint you’ve been longing for all day. Others need a little time to sit and savour; a bottle of the red wine you’ve been saving since Christmas. A Banquet of Consequences definitely falls into the latter camp. At almost 700 pages long, this is no sprint, rather a considered long distance run. The hardback came out in 2015, and we’re looking at the paperback on its release.
This is the 19th novel to feature Inspector Thomas Lynley and his partner in (fighting) crime DS Barbara Havers, and author Elizabeth George shows no sign of taking her eye off the ball. A Banquet of Consequences is a densely plotted, thoughtful book that will engulf you. I love the nuances of her work, the little quirks that bring both the characters and the story alive.
Lynley is in the not unfamiliar position of having to fight his Sergeant’s corner. Havers has pissed off Detective Superintendent Isabelle Ardery once too often and now has the threat of transfer to Berwick on Tweed dangling over her head. She needs to smarten up, both sartorially and professionally, if she is to keep her job with the Met. What? Barbara without her leopardskin high tops and baggy T-shirts? Not gonna happen.
Lynley is determined to keep his renegade second-in-command and he finds a surprising ally in the shape of Ardery’s PA, the elegant Dorothea Harriman, who offers to take Havers in hand – cue some of the funniest sections of a book, which boasts some pretty dark moments too.
This is a novel of contrasts, the most notable being the dual settings of London and Dorset. The latter is lovingly brought to life by a writer who uses her words like brush strokes to create a complete, compelling landscape. You can almost feel the wind in your hair and smell the ozone. We’re in Dorset from the off, to make the acquaintance of the Goldacre family – mother, two sons and stepfather – for whom tragedy is just around the corner.
Youngest son William is a talented landscape gardener, but his ‘wordings’ (which bear some resemblance to Tourettes) can alienate him from potential clients. He has been living in London with his girlfriend Lily, but when another potential landscaping job falls through because of William’s behaviour, he decides to go home to Dorset and to his overbearing mother, Caroline. It is to prove a fatal decision, and William’s suicide is the last straw for Caroline, who throws herself into her work as assistant to top feminist author Clare Abbott.
Then Abbott is found dead and an unforeseen turn of events brings Havers and DS Winston Nkata to the wilds of Dorset. Was the death a heart attack, or something more sinister, as Clare’s editor and friend suspects? Can Havers stick to the straight and narrow and come up with a result, and is Nkata up to the job of babysitting her? As the duo follow through on myriad lines of enquiry, it is a pleasure to witness their relationship – both on a working and personal level. Again, the quirky Havers provides much of the light relief.
Meanwhile, back the capital, Lynley is left to cover the London angles, while keeping his boss at bay – a situation made even more difficult by tricky situations in both his professional and private life. He’s such a rounded character that you find yourself egging him on, every step of the way.
There’s an almost kaleidoscopic quality about this book, with lots of little tiny pieces being shuffled and reshaped until they slot into place and create a pleasing picture. The plotting is rich and rewarding as new angles make themselves known with satisfying regularity. Best to take nothing for granted – that’s my advice.
Earlier this century, the BBC brought the Inspector Lynley novels to the small screen. For another top series converted for television, try Ann Cleeves’ Vera novels.
Hodder and Stoughton
CFL Rating: 5 Stars