This Body of Death is just one of your many absorbing mysteries, but it’s the one I happened to be reading this past December when Colton Harris-Moore, the “barefoot bandit,” was first sentenced. Because you and I both live in western Washington, I know you’re familiar with the exploits of the Camano Island teen who stole cars, airplanes, and boats and burgled numerous homes and shops in several states and the Caribbean. Like the young boys in This Body of Death, Harris-Moore suffered neglect and abuse and by adolescence was a criminal. But he was a thief, not a sadistic killer of smaller children like the British boys whose tragic story, supposedly based on a real case, you weave into your own gripping tale.
You go beyond the horrifying headlines by forcing the reader to consider what happens to youthful predators after they have served their sentences, grown into men, assumed new identities. Already claiming remorse, Colin Harris-Moore plans to repay the people he robbed with earnings from a film based on his life story. But how do you repay the parents of a
two-year-old you have tortured and killed? How do you come to terms with what you’ve done? Will/can you ever know love? Peace of mind? These are the questions you ask your readers to consider in This Body of Death even while you have us solving a seemingly unconnected murder along with intrepid investigators, Sir Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers. Thus you force us to confront the deadly results of the neglect and abuse of children by their parents and of our failure to recognize and help those children before they become capable of doing harm. We, your readers, are not blameless in your eyes. It takes a superb writer to sweeten this bitter dose of moral censure with intrigue, suspense, and credible characters so that we greedily gulp it down. Dickens and Brontë did it. You do it.
And, like those British writers, you, an American, set your miracles of mystery and morality in England. When I’m engrossed in one of your books, I’m back
in Britain where I’ve visited as a tourist, a student, and a teacher. But I haven’t crossed the pond in well over a decade, so when I need to feed my Anglophilia, I turn to your books. Your Inspector Lynley and his cohort Barbara Havers represent both ends of the still extant British class system, and their colleagues, clients, and suspects fill in the rest. Their England is a place I recognize, diverse and ever changing yet familiar. Your novels feature iconic country cottages and manor houses on one page and urban rooming houses and offices a few chapters later. The details you provide make my armchair tourism possible and the horrific events you recount credible.
Your characters, especially Barbara Havers, are also credible. After watching far too many TV crime shows, I’m used to female detectives like Bones, Beckett, and Benson, beautiful, brilliant women haunted by their dead mothers. So it’s refreshing to meet Barbara who’s neither a knockout nor a neurotic. Instead she’s bright, bedraggled, and brave. She’s loyal but her loyalty doesn’t prevent her from following up on a clue instead of following orders. If chasing down that clue means going without backup, she’s on her way. I’m a committed coward, so I have a lot of respect for Barbara’s guts. And I love her work ethic. She doesn’t give up. Nor does she let her feelings for Lynley, her longtime boss, prevent her from working effectively with him. And when her new female boss, an alcoholic, orders Barbara to improve her fashion statement so she looks “professional,” Barbara reluctantly complies. In the Seventies I had a boss who wasn’t into jeans and peasant blouses and told me and my colleagues to revamp our teaching wardrobes. No wonder I like reading about a “dowdy” female detective who doesn’t show up at a crime scene sporting stilettoes and mascara.
Your first mystery was published just a few years before I retired and while I was writing humorous cozies featuring a menopausal sleuth. Your novels enriched my retirement and served as models when I decided to attempt writing the serious historical mystery that became The Bones and the Book. And now I can’t wait to read Believing the Lie.