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In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner    by Elizabeth George order for
In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner
by Elizabeth George
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2000 (1999)
Hardcover, Softcover, Paperback, Audio

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This is an excellent new entry in a series focussed on the aristocratic Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley; his friends Simon and Deborah St. James; his lover and now wife, Helen; and his partner and subordinate Barbara Havers. As well as a mystery, George usually sets up tension in the relationships amongst this group of people. This time it's between Thomas and Barbara and spills over to the others, in particular Helen.

Barbara has just come back to work after a three months suspension and investigation of her actions in Deception on His Mind. She disobeyed and then threatened a superior officer, in order to save the life of a neighbor's child whom she had befriended. From Lynley's black and white perspective, her demotion is a light punishment for breaking the chain of command. His wife and friends see it differently and cautiously champion Barbara's cause.

Barbara, in fact, has come into her own in the last couple of stories, supplanting Lynley as the series' most interesting character. She is overweight, unattractive and sloppy in dress, but dogged and determined on the job, often compared to a pit bull by colleagues. She has a strong basic integrity and a loyalty to Lynley that makes his current view of her very painful. The ongoing development of her character and relationships give depth to this story.

The sinners this time have murdered two seemingly unrelated young people at a prehistoric stone circle on Calder Moor. One is the beloved daughter of an admired former mentor of Lynley's in an elite undercover unit (in fact Thomas owes Andy Maiden a debt of loyalty). The other is a young man, dressed all in black. George tells this story in the classical mystery style. Like Agatha Christie, she masterfully moves the reader's suspicion to and fro amongst a series of potential murderers, and keeps the secret till the very end.

In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner works through a steady disclosure of the victims' backgrounds to a surprising conclusion, in which the identity of the murderer becomes subordinate to the issue of personal responsibility for decisions and their outcomes. An anguished Lynley feels that he himself has made a poor one and understands better what Barbara has gone through. Her vindication in the eyes of someone important to her is a very satisfying ending.

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