Missing Joseph (An Inspector Lynley Mystery) Review

By Sidney Williams

Missing Joseph is one of the Inspector Lynley Mysteries which was turned into an episode of the TV series. In the small screen format, the story was compressed enough that the branching paths and multiple perspectives were quite hard to follow, but in Elizabeth George’s 592 page novel, it all made sense and the paths didn’t get confused. However, with all this extra space, there were some…interesting inclusions. I’ll talk about them in the next section “trigger warnings” because I feel like anyone thinking of reading this book should be made aware of the parts which make it impossible for me to recommend Missing Joseph to a general audience. After covering that, I’ll give a spoiler free story overview, followed by a full spoiler ending review if you’re coming to this article after reading the book, or you’re just one of those people who like to know the endings of things, finally, I’ll close with an in depth verdict, and a summary of how I felt about the book overall. Hopefully, all that information will prove useful in determining if you would like to read Missing Joseph.

Trigger Warnings

Before going any further, I would be remiss to not include a trigger warning. George tries to cover every main character in intimate detail. This being the case, inevitably leads to some upsetting scenes, including a 13 year old girl exploring with her 15 year old boyfriend, and a graphic rape scene inflicted upon one of the adult female characters from the male’s perspective. It’s often awkward, and intense, but I truly believe that including these moments (especially those with Maggie, the 13 year old girl) built a fully fleshed out and believable character going through puberty, though I would have preferred the scenes be absent, and the character building effect could have been accomplished in a much more tasteful way. Additionally, the titular Inspector Lynley is nowhere near perfect, he is still a work in progress and has not yet completely realized that he is quite chauvinistic, and the way he views his wife is honestly pretty upsetting, saying that he wants to possess her—among other things. It really left a bad taste in my mouth. However, Lynley is really not the primary focus of the story, and so it becomes very easy to just focus on Lynley the detective, and not Lynley the misguided and misogynistic husband. All and all, there are quite a few caveats that I have to mention, meaning that this book cannot be recommended to a general, or even an audience that’s going in blind. These problems did make it difficult to get through at times, but I think that some of the inclusions were narratively valuable, and the overall quality of the rest of the novel makes up for the parts that don’t add to the narrative. So, if you think that you can make it through everything I’ve talked about, let’s discuss the story.

Story Overview (No Spoilers)

George opens the novel by building the scene and introducing the major players without the influence of the detectives. Setting up Deborah St. James and her attitude throughout the book as the struggling photographer that has inner demons to run from. After failing to impress with her portfolio, she leaves the cafe where the interview was held, only to be caught in the rain. While sheltering, she is approached by a vicar who captures her attention so much that she and her husband, Simon St. James, travel to Lancashire the next chance they get to visit him. Unfortunately, by the time they arrive, the vicar is dead and the investigation has come up with “accidental poisoning”. Simon, being a top-notch forensic investigator, feels like this conclusion is suspect as the poison—perpetrated by hemlock—would have been very easy to notice, especially by the main suspect: Juliet Spence, the herbalist. From Simon’s prodding, the case is reopened, and New Scotland Yard sends Inspector Lynley to investigate. The rest of the book switches between everyone’s perspectives as the investigation takes place, fleshing out the world and all the people who inhabit it.

Ending Review (Spoilers)

As with most mystery novels, Missing Joseph ties everything up into a very neat bow at the end. Maggie is found to not be Juliet Spence’s actual daughter, and the hemlock poisoning was a method of keeping that fact secret. Colin Shepherd is losing his job in disgrace and is humiliated to the point of breaking. It’s a good ending, although I wish I could have seen Maggie reunited, and that Shepherd had been punished more, but leaving the aftermath (mostly) to the imagination is still very effective. No disappointments here, the tone is consistent and I was completely satisfied.

​​​​​​​Final Verdict

This is a great book, if you are looking for a book like this, and are willing to overlook some of the issues that I’ve mentioned above. It is quite well written, and very effective at building the atmosphere of the story, however, it is just a serialized mystery novel, albeit with way more moving parts than any other I’ve read, but it’s not going to open your eyes to the wonders of literature. The characters are generally likable, and George does a good job of writing believable flaws into the characters, even if these flaws often challenge the likability of that character. Additionally, there are quite a few moments that are genuinely cringeworthy, or made it so I had to place the book down. This was not because the writing was bad, or the characters unbelievable, it was because some of the events touched on in the book were difficult, or inherently cringey. In all cases, covering these topics made the world and characters more fleshed out and allowed for valuable self-reflection, but it makes it really difficult to wholeheartedly recommend Missing Joseph to a general audience. All in all, this is a good, stand-alone novel which has complete, and interesting characters. There are parts which are uncomfortable, but they add to the characters and events in the story. If you can get past the uncomfortable bits, and are looking for an in-depth British mystery drama, this is an extremely solid choice.

Missing Joseph (Inspector Lynley #6) By Elizabeth George Cover Image
ISBN: 9780553385489
Availability: This book is backordered at the warehouse. When you order, we'll contact you with more info about availability.
Published: Bantam - April 15th, 2008

Deborah and Simon St. James have taken a holiday in the winter landscape of Lancastershire, hoping to heal the growing rift in their marriage. But in the barren countryside awaits bleak news: The vicar of Wimslough, the man they had come to see, is dead—a victim of accidental poisoning.