Monday, August 4, 2014

Review: Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George

I wish I could start this off by saying "Here's another favorite author and favorite series."  Alas.........

I really want to say that the title refers to the story of an evil act, but the book is replete with evil acts, evil intentions, and unethical choices.

However......the true evil act is the editor's lack of cleaning up a mess and foisting this 700+page monstrosity on the series' fans.

In some ways, it's vintage Elizabeth George, but mostly it's overblown, way too long, insulting to readers. Periodically, authors will take well-known and well-developed characters and  move them to a new and "out of the comfort zone" setting. That keeps a series fresh, and adds a new perspective to the character. In this case, the crime scene and investigation moved to Italy, where Italian police procedure is quite different from that normally expected in New Scotland Yard.  If the author had helped clarify what crime was being investigated by whom and why, we might have been more disposed to follow along.

As it is, a non-crime occurs when Barbara's next door neighbor, little Hadiyyah Azhar is taken by her mother to Italy without the father's knowledge or permission.  Let's remember that Daddy is not on the birth certificate, is not married to mommy, and in fact not only has this paragon of fatherly virtue (as far as Havers is concerned) never divorced his first wife, he's had no contact with her OR hisTWO OTHER CHILDREN in over a year.  Barbara Havers is stuck in London, working for a new boss (not Lynley) and is frantic to get to Italy to "help".

At least in the beginning, we get vintage Havers - impulsive, slovenly, damn-the-torpedoes, misguided, and in this book, totally blinded to her own motivation. Thomas Lynley is nearly an afterthought throughout this book.  If he hadn't spoken Italian, he'd have almost no part in the story, except to be starting what appears to be a new romance with a roller-derby veterinarian.

The plot is contrived, the dialogue is stilted and very difficult to follow since the author has entire paragraphs of words spoken in Italian WITH NO TRANSLATION. This is a language I can usually follow along thanks to my grandmother, but the excessive use of Italian was way over the top.  I found myself constantly going to translation tools because I wasn't comfortable enough with my assumptions to feel sure I understood what was happening, and whether it was important or not.   (And if it wasn't important, it sure didn't need to be in a book that was over 700 pages long).  I guess we're supposed to feel the frustration Havers feels at not being able to understand the language, but all I felt was frustration that the story was being hijacked by the author's showing off her supposed knowledge of the language, and dragging us along for about 200 pages too much.

There are so many plot lines and sub-plots that I got dizzy trying to keep up.  Is it kidnapping?  Is it a custody fight?  Later is it murder?  And who's working the case?  And who's responsible? 

The book is even worse in audio.....usually one of my favorite formats.   I had the large heavy and awkward print version that was driving me crazy and decided to download the audio to see if Davina Porter - normally one of my favorite narrators -could help make more sense of this mess.  That was a horrible mistake.  Ms. Porter's very clear, clipped and normally understandable British accent does not do well at all with was absolutely painful to hear.  I constantly had to stop the audio to go to the print to see what on earth she thought she was saying in Italian.

There is so much not to like about this book....the choices all the characters make,the stereotyped sleaziness of the characters, the convoluted plot(s), the implausible and almost incredible (meaning NOT credible) ending - one of those "Oh, I guess I need to wrap this up because I have a deadline and it is getting a tad bit long."   In addition, this really should have been at least two, and probably three books.   Maybe that's a good thing if you're a fan.  You can purchase an entire trilogy for the price of one book.  Anyway if you're interested, here's the publisher's blurb about the story:
 Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers is at a loss: The daughter of her friend Taymullah Azhar has been taken by her mother, and Barbara can’t really help—Azhar had never married Angelina, and his name isn’t on Hadiyyah’s, their daughter’s, birth certificate. He has no legal claim. Azhar and Barbara hire a private detective, but the trail goes cold.

Azhar is just beginning to accept his soul-crushing loss when Angelina reappears with shocking news: Hadiyyah is missing, kidnapped from an Italian marketplace. The Italian police are investigating, and the Yard won’t get involved, until Barbara takes matters into her own hands. As she attempts to navigate the complicated waters of doing anything for the case against her superior’s orders, her partner, Inspector Thomas Lynley, is dispatched to Italy as the liaison between the Italian police and Hadiyyah’s distraught parents.

In time, both Barbara and Lynley discover that the case is far more complex than just a kidnapping, revealing secrets about Angelina; her new lover, Lorenzo; and even Azhar—secrets Barbara may not be willing to accept. With both her job and the life of a little girl on the line, Barbara must decide what matters most and how far she’s willing to go to protect it.
I still like this series and these characters.  Let's just hope that Ms. George can get them back to London, and can tighten up her propensity to verbosity and give us some more good solid detective work without all the extraneous HUH?  And without going over about 500 pages!

Title: Just One Evil Act
Author: Elizabeth George
Publisher: Dutton Adult (2013), Edition: 0, Hardcover, 736 pages
Audio format:  Penguin Audio; Unabridged edition (October 15, 2013) 28 hrs downloaded
Genre: mystery,
Subject: international parental kidnapping
Setting: London; Tuscany Italy
Series: Inspector Lynley detective mysteries
Source: ARC from publisher, & Audible download 
Why did I read this book now?  I try to keep current with this series.


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