100 Novels: Walking Into Murder: Elizabeth George’s Careless in Red

Careless in Red
By Elizabeth George
(Harper, 2008)

Thomas Lynley is a man trying to walk away from death — the tragic death of his wife Helen, shot down in cold blood. Lynley is also, incidentally, trying to walk away from his career as a Scotland Yard detective. But, Lynley can neither step away from his loss, nor his career, when, on the forty-third day of his hike along the coast of Cornwall, he discovers the body of cliff climber Santo Kerne, who has apparently fallen to an accidental death.

When local investigators discover Kerne’s climbing kit was tampered with, the accidental death inquiry turns into a murder investigation. That investigation delivers the bulk of the plot of Elizabeth George’s hefty (640 pages) novel Careless in Red. Though the book’s bulk may be intimidating, George deftly and convincingly wrangles out a suspenseful crime novel that weaves a murder investigation into the lives of a small town on the UK coast. (Only one subplot, the relationship between Tammy Penrule, a teenager aspiring to be a nun, and her “grandie” Selevan Penrule, seems tangential. They are minor characters who offer detectives only a tidbit of information about the crime, although their story itself might make a good novel.) 

George also has clearly done her research into crime scene investigation — the investigation itself is detailed and well thought out— and its limitations: there are no science-fiction-y crime-solving supercomputers as in TV crime dramas such as CSI New York to aid the detectives. Those limitations lead the investigation, and team of detectives (I won’t spoil it), to a satisfying and fairly realistic conclusion, a resolution very much unlike most crime fiction, especially the neat resolutions of TV shows.


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