Hailed as the "king of sleaze," tabloid editor Dennis Luxford is used to ferreting out the sins and scandals of people in exposed positions. But when he opens an innocuous-looking letter addressed to him at The Source, he discovers that someone else excels at ferreting out secrets as well. Ten-year-old Charlotte Bowen has been abducted, and if Luxford does not admit publicly to having fathered her, she will die. But Charlotte's existence is Luxford's most fiercely guarded secret, and acknowledging her as his child will throw more than one life and career into chaos. Luxford knows that the story of Charlotte's paternity could make him a laughingstock and reveal to his beautiful wife and son the lie he's lived for a decade. Yet it's not only Luxford's reputation that's on the line: it's also the reputation--and career--of Charlotte Bowen's mother. For she is Undersecretary of State for the Home Office, one of the most high-profile Junior Ministers and quite possibly the next Margaret Thatcher. Knowing that her political future hangs in the balance, Eve Bowen refuses to let Luxford damage her career by printing the story or calling the police. So the editor turns to forensic scientist Simon St. James for help. It's a case that fills St. James with disquiet, however, for none of the players in the drama seem to react the way one would expect. Then tragedy occurs and New Scotland Yard becomes involved. Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley soon discovers that the case sends tentacles from London into the countryside, and he must simultaneously outfox death as he probes Charlotte Bowen's mysterious disappearance. Meanwhile, his partner Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, working part of the investigation on her own and hoping to make the coup of her career, may be drawing closer to a grim solution--and to danger--than anyone knows. In the Presence of the Enemy is a brilliantly insightful and haunting novel of ideals corrupted by self-interest, of the sins of parents visited upon children, and of the masks that hide people from each other--and from themselves.
After seven outings (the last was Playing for the Ashes), upper-crust Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and his stubby, working-class sergeant, Barbara Havers, have formed a comfortable working relationship, which George plays to perfection here. Ten-year-old Charlotte, daughter of Conservative MP Eve Bowen, is abducted after leaving a weekly music lesson not far from her London home. Dennis Luxford, editor for a tabloid-style, decidedly anti-Conservative newspaper, receives a message threatening Charlotte unless he acknowledges her paternity. Bowen, a rising star in the Home Office, chooses to avoid using the police, knowing that disclosure of her brief, long-ago fling with Luxford will ruin her politically. She agrees with Luxford to ask forensic scientist Simon St. James and his assistant Lady Helen (who is Lynley's lover) to investigate undercover. But soon a murder draws in Scotland Yard, allowing Lynley and Havers to lead a complicated investigation to its electrifying and astonishing conclusion. This absorbing tale, in which retribution for the sins of the parents is exacted from-and by-their children, raises questions of parental love and responsibility on several levels. George's fully developed characters will live with the readers long after the last page is turned. Mystery Guild selection; Literary Guild alternate; BDD Audio. Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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January 24, 2011
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Excerpt from In the Presence of the Enemy by Elizabeth George
Charlotte Bowen thought she was dead. She opened her eyes into cold and darkness. The cold was beneath her, feeling just like the ground in her mother's garden planter, where the never-stop drips from the outdoor tap made a patch of damp that was green and smelly. The darkness was everywhere. Black pushed against her like a heavy blanket, and she strained her eyes against it, trying to force out of the endless nothing a shape that might tell her she wasn't in a grave. She didn't move at first. She didn't reach out either fingers or toes because she didn't want to feel the sides of the coffin, because she didn't want to know that death was like this when she'd thought there'd be saints and sunlight and angels, with the angels sitting on swings playing harps.
Charlotte listened hard, but there was nothing to hear. She sniffed, but there was nothing to smell except the mustiness all round her, the way old stones smell after mould's grown on them. She swallowed and tasted the vague memory of apple juice. And the flavour was enough to make her recall.
He'd given her apple juice, hadn't he? He'd handed over a bottle with a cap that he'd loosened and shiny beads of moisture speckling its sides. He'd smiled and squeezed her shoulder once. He'd said, "Not to worry, Lottie. Your mum doesn't want that."
Mummy. That was what this was all about. Where was Mummy? What had happened to her? And to Lottie? What had happened to Lottie?
"There's been an accident," he'd said. "I'm to take you to your mum."
"Where?" she'd said. "Where's Mummy?" And then louder, because her stomach felt liquidy all of a sudden and she didn't like the way he was looking at her, "Tell me where's my mum! Tell me! Right now!"
"It's all right," he'd said quickly with a glance about. Just like Mummy, he was embarrassed because of her noise. "Quiet down, Lottie. She's in a Government safe house. Do you know what that means?"
Charlotte had shaken her head. She was, after all, only ten years old and most of the workings of the Government were a mystery to her. All she knew for sure was that being in the Government meant that Mummy left home before seven in the morning and usually didn't come back till after she was asleep. Mummy went to her office in Parliament Square. She went to her meetings in the Home Office. She went to the House of Commons. On Friday afternoons she held surgery for her constituents in Marylebone, while Lottie did her school prep, tucked out of sight in a yellow-walled room where the constituency's executive committee met.
"Behave yourself," her mother would say when Charlotte arrived after school each Friday afternoon. She'd give a meaningful tilt of her head in the direction of that yellow-walled room. "I don't want to hear a peep out of you till we leave. Is that clear?"
And then Mummy would smile. "So give us a kiss," she would say. "And a hug. I want a hug as well." And she would stop her discussion with the parish priest or the Pakistani grocer from the Edgware Road or the local schoolteacher or whoever else wanted ten precious minutes of their MP's time. And she'd catch Lottie up in a stiff-armed hug that hurt. Then she'd swat her bottom and say, "Off with you now," and turn back to her visitor, saying, "Kids," with a chuckle.
Fridays were best. After Mummy's surgery, she and Lottie would ride home together and Lottie would tell her all about her week. Her mother would listen. She would nod, and sometimes pat Lottie's knee, but all the time she kept her eyes fixed to the road, just beyond their driver's head.
"Mummy," Lottie would say with a martyred sigh in a useless attempt to wrest her mother's attention from Marylebone High Street to herself. Mummy didn't have to look at the high street after all. It's not as if she was driving the car. "I'm talking to you. What're you looking for?"
"Trouble, Charlotte. I'm looking for trouble. You'd be wise to do the same."
Trouble had come, it seemed. But a Government safe house? What was that exactly? Was it a place to hide if someone dropped a bomb?
"Are we going to the safe house?" Lottie had gulped down the apple juice in a rush. It was a little peculiar--not nearly sweet enough--but she drank it down properly because she knew it was naughty to seem ungrateful to an adult.
"That we are," he'd said. "We're going to the safe house. Your mum's waiting there."
Which was all that she could remember distinctly. Things had got quite blurry after that. Her eyelids had grown heavy as they drove through London, and within minutes it seemed that she hadn't been able to hold up her head. At the back of her mind, she seemed to recall a kind voice saying, "That's the girl, Lottie. Have a nice kip, won't you," and a hand gently removing her specs.
At this final thought, Lottie inched her hands up to her face in the darkness,