Missing Joseph

Elizabeth A. George, Author Bantam Books $21.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-553-09253-0
The title of this layered, intricate mystery could refer to the husband and father rarely included in paintings of the Madonna and Child or to an infant victim of crib death 15 years before the grim winter of the story's setting. Both possibilities resonate as George's forensic analyst Simon St. James and Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley of New Scotland Yard, both last seen in For the Sake of Elena , unravel a case that embraces issues of sexuality, procreation and familial love. In Lancashire, in gray, bone-chilling December, the vicar of Winslough is found poisoned by water hemlock, which was served--in an apparent accident--by an herbalist, a solitary woman whose sexually precocious daughter the vicar had been counseling. Simon and his wife Deborah, troubled by their failure to conceive a child, take a long week-end at Winslough in January and are drawn into village gossip about the death, which Simon doubts could have been unintended. Irregularities in the local police follow-up (the constable is sleeping with the herbalist) prompt him to call on Tommy to reopen the case. Probing relationships between lovers and between parents and children (notable here are those between the constable and his retired-copper father, between the vicar's housekeeper and her mom, both schooled in the local witch tradition), George sustains suspense as Tommy traces the vicar's death back through London to a long-ago suicide near Truro. A liberal dose of unhappiness widely applied and a tendency to talkiness are easily tolerable in this deftly plotted, highly atmospheric novel. Author tour. (July)
Reviewed on: 05/31/1993
Release date: 06/01/1993
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