Nothing physical escapes Elizabeth George: the twisted legs of a young corpse. the blackened teeth of an elderly parent, the significant yard a young wife places between herself and her husband as they walk. In George's world, emotional pain is matched by corporeal evil.
The torture-murder of 13-year-old Matthew Whateley, a student at the exclusive English school Bredgar Chambers, serves as the focus of George's third Inspector Thomas Lynley mystery. But beyond the crime, this brutal end of innocence fuels the private sorrows of the author's interlocking characters: the methodical Lynley, who nurses the wounds of an unrequited romance; his assistant, Sgt. Barbara Havers, who's busy sublimating her desperate home life; the brilliant forensic scientist Simon All court-St. James, crippled now in love as well as limb. Add a dash of social conscience and George's latest becomes a compelling psychological study probing skittish personalities as sharply as it examines the case at hand. Like P.D. James, George knows the import of the smallest human gesture; Well-Schooled in Murder puts the younger author clearly in the running with the genre's master. (Bantam, $17.95)