Picks and Pans Review: In the Presence of the Enemy
There's never anything particularly striking about the crimes at the heart of Elizabeth George's mysteries. People are bludgeoned, abused, dispensed with in the usual fashions. What sets her books apart—and shoots them beyond the genre—isn't plot but character. With George, the ongoing mystery is human motivation. And rarely has she offered more twisted company.
Dennis Luxford, young editor of the British tabloid The Source, has just stopped chuckling over the latest turn in the Rent Boy Rhumba—his headline tale of the sexual exploits of a conservative Member of Parliament—when the letter arrives. "Use page one," it commands, "to acknowledge your firstborn child." For Luxford, the game abruptly changes as he struggles to keep his own secrets while frantically trying to free a 10-year-old girl—the daughter no one knows he has—from a kidnapper's grip.
Calling in her remarkable stable of sleuths—Deborah and Simon St. James, Tommy Lynley and Helen Clyde—the author stretches their already precarious friendship. The child's mother—a cold-blooded Tory up-and-comer whose career could topple with the revelation of her child's paternity—does not want Scotland Yard involved. So Luxford turns to St. James, who keeps Lynley in the dark. The results are shattering, both professionally and personally. Combining the eloquence of P.D. James with a story John Grisham would envy, George serves up a splendid, unsettling novel that readers will race to finish, yet not soon forget. (Bantam, $23.95)