By Mark Harris
Updated September 18, 1992 at 04:00 AM EDT

Although the old-fashioned British police procedural and the campus whodunit are among the most bloodless strains of crime fiction, For the Sake of Elena is a wonderfully unflinching exception to both genres. The setting is Cambridge, where, surrounded by pastoral courtyards and shadowy riverbanks, Scotland Yard’s soigne inspector Thomas Lynley and his plainspoken partner, Sgt. Barbara Havers, investigate the bludgeoning of a deaf female student who had a talent for making enemies.

Although her mysteries are set in England, Elizabeth George is a Californian with a passion for authenticity. When For the Sake of Elena stops to take in the architecture, the weather, the landscape, it assumes the perky, overdetailed tone of a walking tour. But George doesn’t stray from her plot for long, and the authors of several better-known detective series could learn from the skill with which she has developed her intriguing sleuths since their debut in 1988’s A Great Deliverance. B+

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