Careless in Red opens with the still-grieving Thomas Lynley making his way along the coast of Cornwall on foot. Lynley has been walking so long, in fact, that he could more easily pass for a vagrant or homeless person than he could for the highly respected Detective Superintendent of New Scotland Yard he used to be. Since Lynley wants no part of New Scotland Yard, or anything else regarding his former life, he prefers it that way. But, as luck would have it, he stumbles upon the body of a teenage boy who has apparently fallen from the cliff below which Lynley is walking. When it becomes clear that this is a case of murder, rather than accident, Lynley will find himself one of the early suspects in the investigation.
Detective Inspector Bea Hannaford has a murder to solve but she does not feel that she has been given the proper tools to solve the case. The local policemen assigned to help her on the case do not impress her at all, so she is determined to make the most of having a former star of New Scotland Yard on the case. Hannaford refuses to let Lynley leave the area and convinces him that, since he is there anyway, he may as well give her some help. Hannaford, though, gets more than she bargained by forcibly recruiting Thomas Lynley into the investigation and she soon realizes that he will, indeed, help investigate the murder - but only on his own terms.
Elizabeth George writes big books and this is another whopper, coming in at 623 pages. It is filled with complex side plots and back stories involving a wide array of characters all the way from a grandfather trying to raise his overly religious granddaughter to a Greek expatriate sleeping her way through Cornwall’s men (married or not, young or old) at an astonishing pace. Some of the side plots and much of the back story involve the murdered boy, Santo Kerne, a young man who had more than his share of enemies for someone so young. While some might see the multiple characters and stories as a distraction, fans of George will revel in the way she gets so deeply into the lives of such different people and will be impressed with the way she tidies everything up by the book’s end.
Longtime fans of the series are, however, likely to be somewhat disappointed that Thomas Lynley is little more than a side character in Careless in Red or that Barbara Havers does not even appear in the story until about its mid-point. Havers, though, is Havers and when she does show up, Lynley’s character seems to change for the better and the whole pace of the book seems to sharpen.
Note that the unabridged audio book version of Careless in Red is some 18 CDs in length and that total listening time is something close to 20 hours in total. This is quite a challenge unless one has an extremely long commute or, as I did, brings the book along on a road trip. Narrator John Lee, who does an excellent job on the recording, is consistent throughout and does a remarkable job on a variety of British accents.
Fans of the series will appreciate this one; newcomers, perhaps not as much. The good news is that Thomas Lynley is recovering from the tragedy he suffered in With No One as Witness and that he should be more his old self in the next book in the series.
Rated at: 4.0