This Body of Death, the latest in Elizabeth George’s series of literary mysteries, is well worth reading if you’re familiar with some (or preferably all) of the earlier novels in the series. I’m not at all sure, however, that it’s a good idea to pick up this book if you’re unfamiliar with the back story. It’s not so much that it won’t make sense — more that you won’t enjoy it. For one thing, the novel is over 600 slow-paced pages long, and you need something of a prior commitment to remain interested. I didn’t mind the slow pace, but your mileage may vary.
Unlike almost all of the earlier books in the series, “Tommy” Lynley is not the protagonist. I can’t remember which of the other novels feature Barbara Havers, but I know that this isn’t the first. Even Havers, however, isn’t consistently the lead here. For one thing, This Body of Death belongs to a certain sub-genre (I can’t remember what it’s called) in which two apparently unrelated stories swirl around the plot, and it isn’t until close to the end that the reader finds out how they’re related. George handles this revelation in a masterful way: I didn’t guess the connection until one page before it becomes explicit, but it’s immediately obvious after she reveals the truth. One of the plot-lines is apparently based on a real-life case.
So…do I recommend This Body of Death? Yes if you’re an experienced Elizabeth George reader; no otherwise.