Barbara Havers might be one of the best detectives New Scotland Yard has ever seen. But not fitting into the mold, she has trouble receiving the respect she deserves. In fairness, her stubbornness to alter her appearance or behavior works against her. Havers’ dress code favors T-shirts with in-your-face sayings, scuffed up trainers, and baggy trousers. Her hair frequently suffers from being chopped off with whatever sharp device she has on hand. And her chain smoking annoys anyone nearby. Her last outing in Elizabeth George’s Just One Evil Act, has put a target on her back. Out to get Havers are her boss, Detective Chief Inspector Isabelle Ardery, and Ardery’s superior, Assistant Commissioner Sir David Hillier. Havers’ transgression was traveling to Italy without authorization to help her neighbor, Taymullah Azhar, recover his kidnapped daughter. Rescuing Hadiyyah placed Havers’ life in jeopardy while also displaying her smarts and courage in helping those at risk. Ardery, however, has had enough and backed by Hillier sets up a situation she hopes will finally allow her to transfer Havers to a British Siberia, aka Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Ian Druitt was found hanged to death while in custody in Ludlow. Although not an actual minister (he never completed the work or was able to pass the necessary tests), Druitt nonetheless made himself invaluable at St. Laurence, having established an after school club for boys and girls. When child molestation allegations surfaced, Druitt was brought to the station by a community support officer, not an actual police officer. Druitt’s death was ruled a suicide and an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission ruled, that while the incident had been handled badly, no criminal charge would be leveled against anyone involved.
That doesn’t satisfy Ian’s father, Clive Druitt, owner of a chain of craft breweries, who puts pressure on Quentin Walker, a member of Parliament, to review the case. Ardery sees her mission, not to reopen and reinvestigate the case, but to ascertain that the Ludlow police had handled everything correctly. Paramount is to reassure the senior Druitt – as much as possible when a father has to face his son’s suicide – that procedure was followed in determining a cause of death. Hillier, however, makes it clear to Ardery that avoiding a lawsuit is at the top of the list.
Even though she doesn’t relish the thought of spending several days with Havers, Ardery believes that ordeal will be worthwhile if she can finally rid herself of the detective. Ardery, meanwhile, comes with her own baggage. She’s an alcoholic who has lost custody of her children. Her ex-husband, who has remarried, is taking a new job in New Zealand. Ardery is furious that her twin sons will now be so far away, but she’s unable to stop drinking, just making her situation worse.
Havers is alarmed when she learns she will be accompanying Ardery to Ludlow and places a call to her longtime partner, Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley, hoping he will intervene. Lynley, however, tells Havers to fall in line and avoid doing anything that will give Ardery ammunition. Havers takes his advice to heart, perhaps too much to heart, trying to keep up with Ardery’s drinking and ending up drunk and sick. But what really puts Ardery off is Havers’ inability to accept the local police’s ruling that Druitt’s death was a suicide. While Ardery merely wants to rubber stamp what the West Mercia police officers did, Havers, with her keen powers of observation, spots one inconsistency after another. And then there’s the growing list of suspects, including students from the local college, the PSO who arrested Druitt, the barman in the local pub, and a historian who, because of his claustrophobia, prefers to sleep on the streets.
Besides worrying about being transferred, Havers must deal with Dorothea Harriman, the department secretary of her division in the Metropolitan Police, who, in one of Havers’ weaker moments, convinced the detective sergeant to sign up for a tap dancing class. With a recital now on the horizon, Havers must find time to perfect her shuffles and flaps.
Havers, however, does her job too well and when an investigation into Druitt’s death is reopened, she returns to Ludlow, this time with Lynley. It won’t be easy. Everyone, it seems, has something to hide and no one, even the police, are eager to help the New Scotland Yard detectives.
The Punishment She Deserves is George at her best. Clocking in at 692 pages, plan to burn the midnight oil turning pages. When it’s over, you’ll find yourself eager for George’s next book. We hope it’s not too long a wait.
The Punishment She Deserves
Top photo: Bigstock