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The Lies We Tell: a review of The Punishment She Deserves by Elizabeth George

March 27, 2018

For fans of Elizabeth George, there are few things in the world more delicious than the prospect of a new mystery starring Detective Inspector Lynley and his sidekick, the wholly original, delightfully prickly, Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers.

For the uninitiated, Inspector Lynley novels are compelling, twisty, multi-layered thrillers, rich in language and insight and full of wonderfully descriptive detail that keeps the reader fully immersed, if not obsessed. They are the complete reading experience and the latest, The Punishment She Deserves, an absolute corker.

Elizabeth George, an American who fell in love with all things British in the 1960s, not only sets her Inspector Lynley mysteries in the UK, but magically infuses her storytelling with a delightful Englishness. Like an Agatha Christie, The Punishment She Deserves, the 20th in the Lynley mystery series, has a cosy setting and a small cast of characters, inhabitants of an English country town called *Ludlow.

But cosy does not quite describe a story that involves marital discontent, dysfunctional families, the bruising impact of grief, pedaphelia and assorted other social concerns that surround a bunch of wild teenagers who attend the local university. It all begins with a local clergyman who has been arrested and is found to have hanged himself at the police station. His grief-stricken father who doesn’t believe either the heinous crime with which he’s been charged or the apparent suicide, makes waves to have the original police investigation, re-investigated. Enter, vodka addicted Detective Chief Superintendant Isabelle Ardery, Havers whom she hates and wants to get rid of, and Inspector Lynley, Isabelle’s ex-lover.

Having muddied the waters at that end, the investigation then reaches into the deepest, most intimate corners of the lives of the townspeople who seem enmeshed in a web of lies or half-truths. Like most of us, they all seem to have something to hide.

As an author of police procedurals, Elizabeth George is impeccable, and watching two of Scotland Yard’s best comb through the small detail in search of the slip-up is fascinating. As Havers says: ‘No one thinks of everything when it comes to a crime.’

But it’s Elizabeth George’s depiction of characters – a Shakespearian parade of humanity at its worst and best, self-deluding, vulnerable, vain, loyal, well meaning, capable of great good and even greater evil – that has earned her serious cred as a writer.

Take cranky Havers who has had a rough upbringing and is socially inept yet terribly vulnerable. And Lynley, the handsome and urbane Eighth Earl of Ashton, silky smooth, elegant and charming, yet troubled. Among crime fiction’s finest and most popular creations, their developing comradery and friendship despite huge differences, adds warmth and light to a dark tale.

True to form, once the crime is satisfyingly solved, evil dispatched and justice done, The Punishment She Deserves ends in a powerful scene between this ill-matched pair. Exquisitely written, psychologically revealing and deeply moving, it’s a great ending to a great novel.

Brilliant, Elizabeth George, just brilliant.

*Ludlow is an actual place, a market town in Shropshire, UK. Elizabeth George went there to research its geography, history and architecture. She says the location is always her starting point to writing a novel and suggests much of the plot to her.


Elizabeth George’s first novel, A Great Deliverance, was honored with the Anthony and Agatha Best First Novel Awards and received the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière. Her third novel, Well-Schooled in Murder, was awarded the prestigious German prize for suspense fiction, the MIMI. A Suitable Vengeance, For the Sake of Elena, Missing Joseph, Playing for the Ashes, In the Presence of the Enemy, Deception on His Mind, In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner, A Traitor to Memory, and I, Richard were international bestsellers. Elizabeth George divides her time between Huntington Beach, California, and London. Her novels are currently being dramatized by the BBC.

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  1. Patricia Grabski

    Hello, I have read all of Elizabeth Georgia’s books. I also heard her speak at UCSD 20+ years ago and actually had an opportunity to chat with her about her books. I am reading the punishment she deserves now and I’m blown away. On page 285 in the third paragraph there’s a typographical error. It is in regard to the cell phone and it says there wasn’t a mobile with the lumber when it should’ve been number. I just wanted to point that out. I am really surprised that that error got through the editors unless it was something they wanted everyone to catch.

    I just wanted to share that. I’m not sure this is the right place to mention it. I’m totally enjoying the book. And I’m going to get back to it now. Best regards.

    Patricia Grabski

    1. Klara Wilkson

      It is not a typo.

      On p. 128, Barbara Havers speaking to Isabelle Ardery: “ I expect we ought to go through all that lumber the dad gave you. It might match up to what he’s got set up in his diary, eh?”

      Havers is referring to the ‘…. row of cardboard boxes, some of them sealed some of them gaping open ……’ given to them for examination by the deceased man’s father (Clive Druitt) on p. 96.

      On p. 285, Barbara speaking to Lynley: “..there wasn’t a mobile with the lumber we had off his dad…..”
      Spencer, the vicar, glances between Barbara and Lynley; “That’s quite odd, isn’t it. I can’t think why it wasn’t amongst his things, unless it simply got left out somehow. Was it perhaps taken into evidence when he died?”

      ‘Lumber’ in this context = cardboard boxes of the deceased’s personal effects …. in which the detectives were looking for, but did not find, the deceased’s mobile phone.

  2. Sharon Parrotte

    While I am enjoying most of the book, it definitely doesn’t seem up to George’s usual standards. And if I read the phrase “full stop” one more time, I may very well chuck it out the window.

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