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Originally published Friday, October 11, 2013 at 5:09 AM

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‘Just One Evil Act’: Detective Sergeant Havers on the case

Whidbey Island author Elizabeth George’s latest Inspector Lynley novel, “Just One Evil Act,” follows Barbara Havers, Lynley’s working-class partner, as she investigates the kidnapping of a beloved neighbor. George reads at several locations in October in the Seattle area.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

Elizabeth George

The author of “Just One Evil Act” will appear at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15, at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park (206-366-3333 or She will read at 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Co.(206-624-6600 or and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27, at the Eagle Harbor Book Co. on Bainbridge Island (206-842-5332 or

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We get hooked on a mystery series for the comfort of the familiar, for time spent with characters we’ve come to know and love, for the reassuring feeling that our detective-hero will somehow make things turn out right. And we want the characters to grow and change, but not too much. (For those who, like me, are eagerly following Sue Grafton’s journey through the alphabet: nobody out there is hoping Kinsey moves out of Henry’s rental apartment and buys her own place, right?)

So fans should be reassured to hear that Elizabeth George’s “Just One Evil Act,” (Dutton, 723 pp., $29.95) the 18th novel in the Whidbey Island author’s excellent Inspector Lynley series, keeps things mostly to the status quo. After dramatically killing off a main character in “With No One as Witness,” George has perhaps rightly guessed that readers can only handle so much change, and so “Just One Evil Act” unfolds along familiar lines.

Little Hadiyyah Upman, daughter of Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers’ neighbor and friend Taymullah Azhar, has been kidnapped (for the second time in her eventful life, poor kid; she was previously snatched in “Deception on His Mind”). Detective Inspector Lynley counsels prudence; Havers, in her usual fashion, plunges headlong into the case with little regard for rules and protocol; and a complex tale spins out, rushing us from London to Italy and back again.

George, an American who lives in the Pacific Northwest, has an uncanny ear for dialogue (and Britishisms); you hear the characters in your head long after putting the book down. And the voice you hear most strongly here is one of her most beloved characters: Havers, the disheveled, lonely sergeant whose inclination to let her heart rule her head takes her to dangerous places. Those of us who’ve devoured the Lynley mysteries know that she’s long been in love with Azhar (without the books ever really having to say it) and adores Hadiyyah — so this case is just the right one for her to run off the rails.

And she does, gloriously, in her collection of high-top trainers and ratty T-shirts (my favorite slogan “No Toads Need to Pucker Up”), trademark smart-ass repartee, habitual nutritional chaos, and utterly endearing loyalty. Might she cross paths again some day with the charming Italian Chief Inspector Salvatore Lo Bianco, who thinks she has an “extraordinarily lovely smile?” Let’s hope. Longtime readers may wonder if Havers will ever be allowed to learn from her mistakes (really, does she think a game of tit-for-tat with a sleazy tabloid reporter could possibly turn out well?), but she’s, as always, a delight to spend time with.

Meanwhile, the noble Lynley (we’re reminded that he dresses “in an elegantly rumpled and casual manner that suggested mounds of money and self-confidence”) continues to slowly heal from his wife’s death; Acting Detective Superintendent Isabelle Ardery remains prickly and yet intriguing; Detective Sergeant Winston Nkata makes a tantalizingly brief appearance, as if just waving hello to readers; a host of other characters in London and Italy join the narrative; and mysterious British foods, such as a “bacon butty” (guess who eats it?), are consumed. It’s a pleasure no less enjoyable for being familiar; you finish the book longing for the next installment to arrive swiftly, so as to hear Lynley and Havers’ voices again.

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