One nice fringe benefit of my trip to Texas was the ability to indulge in a little light reading. I was eager enough to read Elizabeth George's new novel, A Banquet of Consequences, that I preordered it on my kindle, and stayed up much of one night in our hotel room in San Antonio, hiding under the covers to avoid waking my mom, as the wind howled outside and the sound of rain pounded against the windows. And it was a good book, one well worth staying up for.
I am not going to spoil the fun by revealing details of the plot, only say that Lynley and Havers seem to be more or less back on track, with stronger elements of their old selves in evidence. We actually don't see a lot of Lynley, although he is present, and his presence is critical. Lynley himself seems to be coming to terms with the changes in his own life, and the consequences of his actions, both the continuing repercussions of his ill-conceived involvement with Isabelle Ardery, and the more interesting and ultimately challenging consequences of his growing attachment to Daidre Trahair. In short, Lynley has been working through his grief, and show signs of becoming a far more complex and interesting character in the process. We still have to see how far he is willing to carry through.
But Lynley isn't really the focus in this novel. That distinction goes to Barbara Havers, although actually we spend far more time with a complex cast of characters and an interesting set of circumstances, the same set of circumstances that ensnare Barbara Havers, and lead to her involvement in solving a crime. In fact the entire novel is an interesting study in motivation and the consequences of both action and inaction. Of course Havers has a lot to lose and a lot to gain in this investigation. Her situation remains precarious following her almost complete unraveling in the last novel, but she acquits herself well, and we not only begin to see the old Barbara emerge, a woman who is creatively brilliant as an investigator, either despite of her prickliness, or because of it, I'm not sure which, but we even see hints that she too may be growing in new and interesting ways.
And this is what I probably found most interesting in this book. Not only is it a good mystery and it is, complex and satisfying at that. But George also does a masterful job of bringing her characters around to where they need to be in order to carry on. I know that not everyone liked the last few novels, and that they have been uneven at best. And I also realize how shocked we all were at the death of Lynley's wife, but, increasingly, I think that this evolution was necessary in the life of these characters, just as evolution and transition is necessary in our own lives. Without this evolution, no matter how uncomfortable it was to us as readers, I am not convinced that this series could continue. It seems to me that the author has positioned herself and her characters well, with a promising future, a future I am looking forward to exploring, as George leaves us with some tantalizing hints at the end of the novel.
And although I am certain that what we pick up out of our reading has as much to do with our own accumulated experiences as with the actual words written, I am also intrigued by the way this novel reflects ideas that have been floating in my head for some months now. Lynley realizes that Barbara's brilliance as an investigator has been hampered by the straightjacket Ardery has placed her in, and he needs the old Barbara back. In fact both Lynley and Havers were brilliant as investigators because they were both outsiders, although outsiders of very different sorts, and it was this meeting of their skills and perspectives, and their ability and willingness to see into the cracks, that made them a fine team. But with his marriage, Lynley was getting too settled, and moving back, just a little bit more comfortably, into his natal milieu; and Havers, well Havers lost her lifeline when Lynley married.
The book reminded me of books I read this summer, books I didn't review, and which I can't really go back to now. One was Kevin Ashton's How to Fly a Horse, which was about creativity and creative thinking. Ashton's thesis was that we are all creative, that creativity is a hallmark of our species, a basic part of our nature, but one which some of us tap into better than others. He also noted that security and fear are another part of our nature, and the both the need to be creative, and the fear of change and need for security are equally necessary for our survival. It is this competing set of instincts that are of course happening in this struggle between Ardery, who is all too often all too close to self-destructing and losing the security of her life, and who therefore craves security and order, and Barbara Havers, whose life is chaos, and who needs the security brought about by putting the bad guys away, and whose need fuels her brilliantly creative and insightful investigative impulses. But all that brilliance and creativity comes at a cost, and as Ashton repeatedly points out, creativity is not neat and orderly. Lynley and Havers both make people uncomfortable, although in very different ways, and in order to do this they must be open to their own discomfort and to finding a way to live with their own discomfort. This book shows both of them making progress toward something better perhaps than they were before.