Well-Schooled in Murder

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Well-Schooled in Murder
Author Elizabeth George
Country United States
Language English
Series Inspector Lynley series
Genre Crime novel
Publisher Bantam Press
Publication date
25 October 1990
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 329 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBN ISBN 0-593-01973-3 (first edition, hardback)
OCLC 220789038
Preceded by Payment in Blood
Followed by A Suitable Vengeance

Well-Schooled in Murder is a crime novel by Elizabeth George first published in 1990. Set in the late 1980s at an elite public school in the South of England founded in 1489, the book, which is a mystery novel in the tradition of the whodunnit, revolves around the strict yet unwritten code of behaviour prevalent at independent schools which says that under no circumstances must pupils ever tell on their schoolmates, no matter what they have done. Accordingly, when a 13 year-old boy goes missing one Friday afternoon and two days later is found dead in a churchyard an hour's drive away, Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and his partner, Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, both of the Criminal Investigation Department of New Scotland Yard, are up against a wall of silence as none of the 600 pupils of Bredgar Chambers School seems to be willing to co-operate with the police and communicate what they know.

Plot summary[edit]

Teacher John Corntel asks his former Eton schoolmate Lynley for help when the 13 year old schoolboy Matthew Whateley has disappeared. Initially Lynley refuses, until Deborah St James finds the naked body of the boy in a churchyard in Stoke Poges. Lynley and Havers start their investigation at Matthew's school Bredgar Chambers, an elite boarding school in West Sussex.

They find a letter from Matthew to Jeannie Bonnamy, a daughter of Colonel Bonnamy. Matthew has visited them three days before his death to dine and play chess with the colonel. When Jeannie brought Matthew back to school, they saw 6th form student Chas Quilter in a school minibus, returning from a visit to Cecilia Feld, a girl in Stoke Poges. Chas didn't want anyone to find out about his relationship with Cecilia, and the fact that he was the father of Cecilia's child, which has Apert syndrome. Cecilia herself was transferred from Bredgar Chambers to another school when she was pregnant.

Chemistry teacher Emilia Bond tried to burn child pornography photos that belonged to John Corntel; she was in love with Corntel, but found out he was collecting those photos. This explains why Corntel didn't patrol in spite of being duty master. That same evening 6th grader Clive Pritchard nabbed Matthew Whateley to torture him, because Matthew had made a tape recording of Clive bullying schoolboy Harry Morant. When Clive found Matthew dead he felt responsible, unaware that the cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning.

During the investigation there's an attempt to kill Jeannie Bonnamy with a rake. Chas Quilter hangs himself.

The investigators find out that Matthew's biological parents were Mrs Pamela Byrne and Edward Hsu, a Chinese former pupil at Bredgar Hall who killed himself after this scandal. Giles Byrne felt financially responsible for the child of his late wife. As a board member he obtained a scholarship for Matthew at Bredgar Chambers. Giles' 18 year old son Brian turns out to be the culprit. He killed his half-brother in the fume cupboard in the chemistry lab. He then transported the body to Stoke Poges in the school minibus Chas Quilter was driving. His motive was to win Chas Quilter's lifetime loyalty. Brian also tried to kill Jeannie Bonnamy for the same reason. Brian Byrne and Clive Pritchard are arrested.

In a subplot Barbara Havers visits her demented mother, and finds her father dead. Another theme is Lynley's aristocratic descent (he is sometimes referred to as "Lord Asherton")—shown through his working relationship with his working class colleague Barbara Havers from Acton and his unrequited love for Lady Helen Clyde.

Characters[edit]

  • DI Thomas Lynley
  • DS Barbara Havers
  • Jimmy Havers: Barbara's father
  • Mrs Havers: Barbara's mother
  • DI Mike Canerone
  • Simon Allcourt-St James: forensic scientist
  • Deborah St James: Simon's wife
  • Lady Helen Clyde: absent object of Lynley's affection
  • Matthew Whateley: 13-year-old schoolboy
  • Kevin Whateley: Matthew's adoptive father
  • Patsy Whateley: Matthew's adoptive mother
  • Harry Morant: schoolmate of Matthew
  • Arlens: schoolmate of Matthew
  • Smythe-Andrews: schoolmate of Matthew
  • Chas Quilter: 6th grader
  • Clive Pritchard: 6th grader
  • Brian Byrne: 6th grader
  • Giles Byrne: Brian's father
  • Mrs Pamela Byrne: Brian's mother (deceased)
  • Alan Lockwood: headmaster
  • Mrs Kathleen Lockwood: Alan's wife
  • John Corntel: teacher, former Eton schoolmate of Lynley
  • Emilia Bond: chemistry teacher
  • Cowfrey Pitt: German teacher
  • Judith Laughland: sanatorium sister
  • Frank Orten: porter
  • Elaine Roly: matron
  • Colonel Bonnamy: lives in the neighbourhood of the school
  • Jeannie Bonnamy: Colonel's daughter
  • Yvonnen Livesley: Matthew's old mate from Hammersmith
  • Cecilia Feld: 17-year-old girl in Stoke Poges
  • Edward Hsu: former Chinese pupil who killed himself

Quote[edit]

We live by codes, he [Lynley] thought. We call them our morals, our standards, our values, our ethics, as if they were part of our genetic make up. But they are only behaviours that we have learned from our society, and there are times to act in defiance of them, to fly in the face of their conventions because it is right to do so.

Literary significance and reception[edit]

The Baltimore Sun wrote: "Ms. George has crafted a fine and powerful novel sure to delight readers in the mood for a thought-provoking, hard-hitting mystery."

People wrote: "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. [1]

Chicago Tribune: "George is a master[...] An outstanding practicioner of the modern English mystery."

Los Angeles Times: "A spectacular new voice in mystery writing."

Daily News (New York): "A compelling whodunnit[...] A reader's delight."

Well-Schooled in Murder was awarded the MIMI, a German prize for suspense fiction.[2]

TV adaption[edit]

Well Schooled in Murder is the second episode of the first season of The Inspector Lynley Mysteries. Several changes were made to the plot. Matthew's biological mother is Patsy Whateley instead of Pamela Byrne. Corntel is gay but doesn't actually collect child porn. Deborah and Simon St James are omitted. So is Cecilia Feld, and there's no mention of Chas Quilter having a child. Lorry driver Barry Summers is a new suspect.[3]

Release details[edit]

  • 1990, UK, Bantam Press (ISBN 0-593-01973-3), Pub date 25 October 1990, hardback (First edition)

Read on[edit]

References[edit]