Thursday, May 13, 2010

Why I Will Stop Reading Her

WARNING: If you haven't read This Body of Death by Elizabeth George or any of the three prior books and are planning on doing so, then please do not read this post further. SPOILERS abound!

Copyright Elizabeth George American Author Elizabeth George writes mysteries in the grand old tradition of British Classic Crime novels started in the Golden Age between the two world wars. That tradition has been carried into modern times by P.D. James, Ruth Rendell, Deborah Crombie, and George among others.

Mysteries are fictional novels blah blah blah. Characters are the purview of the author blah blah blah. Continuing characters can be taken in any direction that the author wishes to do so blah blah blah.

And yet... I felt devastated by George's April book This Body of Death. The reasons for this are two-fold. But first, a preamble...

I have read every one of her books. George was the reason I was introduced to the world of Brit Classic Crime—intellectual, realistic, and not unnecessarily gory or terrifying simply for the sake of jerking the reader's chain. However, George's books have gotten progressively darker. So far, I kept faith, because of the integrity and complexity of her protagonists and stories. I genuinely like(d) them.

Copyright Elizabeth George For many fans, the ending of With No One As Witness was a huge shock and cause for disenchantment. For me, the ending and Lynley's reactions were very much on par for the story, series, and character arcs that George had set in motion. For me, the horror was in the next book What Came Before He Shot Her, which contains children doing terrible things to other children and having terrible things done to them in turn. (As a book in a continuing character series, the fascinating part was that this next book was a prequel to the former book. Cleverly done, with a gutsy writerly approach.)

Copyright Elizabeth George Violence towards children is a deal-breaker for me. Usually. For George's sake, I was willing to assume that the stuff in What Came Before He Shot Her was a one-off. However, two books later, in This Body of Death, juvenile voilence is back and the atrocity is far more gruesome. Involves a small child, too.

Detective Inspector Lynley of the Scotland Yard is a peer of the realm, a belted earl complete with a butler, wealth, fabulous education, and a great big pile in Cornwall. And yet, he feels compelled to work as a policeman. In Lynley, George has also created a roué who goes through the Metropolitan Police department females chapter and verse. This isn't conjecture on my part, but related through the eyes of his Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers. Thank the gods that he hasn't banged Havers yet. Lynley has no moral, ethical, or even health reasons for abstaining—the only reason being that he so out-classes her. Modern Brtish society is still rife with class distinctions. A nobleman cannot conceive of playing tickle-n-poke with a person of the lower middle classes. In This Body of Death, Lynley's monologue shows that he's aware of Havers's interest in him, but his involvement with her is "laughable."

Copyright Elizabeth George Now in Careless in Red, Lynley is suffering through intense grief following a traumatic event. He takes off on a solitary walking journey of the west coast that's equal parts endurance and healing, following days of a drinking binge. In the course of the story, he gets involved in solving a local crime and also having it on with the principle suspect. (wry) I'm still willing to give George and Lynley leeway here, because I think this promiscuousness is another expression of grief. After all he had reformed while he was married.

Copyright Elizabeth George Then along comes This Body of Death, and Lynley is back at the Met and back at having the hots for the new department woman, his superintendent, this time. Isabelle Ardery is a poor investigator, doesn't know how to hold a team together or lead, jumps to conclusions on thinest circumstantial evidence, treats the people working for her badly, treats Lynley like her go-fer, is an alchoholic...but never mind, Lynley is still interested. I'm still reading, mind, because perhaps George in her great talent might redress matters here. Nope. Lynley catches her in her apartment passed out drunk, sticks her in the shower with her clothes on to revive her, makes her coffee and toast to sober her up, and then sleeps with her. And then proceeds to tell Assistant Commissioner David Hillier that he should keep her on, because this case wasn't a fair test of her skills.

Arrrrrggghhhh!!!! I give up! Given what I read and what I write, I'm hardly a prosing bore about sexual morals in fictional characters. However, a modern titled rake who can't keep his pants zipped except for the brief period of his marriage with no thought for protection against STDs is completely unbelievabe to me. Does he have no discernment? No dignity, sense of self-respect? Or is that the point? Either way, I have lost interest in seeing whether Lynley will end up with Havers and/or reading the dark, seediness that pervades her books these days. And I mourn the loss.


Cara Wallace said...

I actually never thought that Lynley and Havers would ever wind up together. I did hope that Havers would eventually develop a life for herself outside the force, though.

What Came Before was a harrowing read, but I thought George handled it very well, being realistic but not gratuitous -- something that characterizes the series as a whole for me.

So I can understand your disappointment, but I think I am willing to keep reading for now. I have another friend whose breaking point was With No One As Witness and its conclusion. It would be interesting to know how many people she lost at that point.

Vanessa Kelly said...

Sigh. I adored Elizabeth George, but I refused to read her anymore when I found out when she was going to do to Helen. And I hated that she kept getting darker and darker.

But I so miss Havers, who was my favorite character.

It's a shame - George is soooo talented, but I just can't take it.

Keira Soleore said...

Cara, I personally know four people who George lost as a result of Helen's death.

I feel like you do that the series as whole was very well done, nothing over the top, no execesses, etc. But the details in WCBHSH were very upsetting to me. Yet, I persevered because I find George's work talented and well-executed. But TBOD to me is unfortunately the breaking point.

I also know that she has two of those child perpetrators at large so most likely, they'll show up in the next book or the one after that.

The situations with Arderey to me is breaking faith with Lynley's character. Again, this is simply my reading of it. Glad you feel otherwise and can continue to enjoy her books.

Keira Soleore said...

Vanessa, I didn't know about Helen going into the book. I was so shocked when it happened. I cried as I read it, and for two days afterwards, didn't crack open another book.

Havers is my favorite character, too. I want happiness for her. Too bad Haddiyah's mom returned, so Azhar is lost to her. I don't think Nkata is going to go for her, so I've always felt that Lyley would one fine day wake up and decide for her. Maybe George'll "improve" upon Havers's outward appearance, etc. to make her more acceptable.

"It's a shame - George is soooo talented, but I just can't take it."

My sentiments exactly.

cara elliott said...


I refused to read WCBHSH because I just knew that I didn't want to go there . . .just because that sort of violence exists doesn't mean I have to delve deeper into it. I need to be told why the situation is so disturbing , , ,I understand that.

After Helene's death, I swore I wouldn't read George again. But then I read her long explanation on her website and changed my mind. I've liked the following two Inspector L books. And while I totally agree with you that Lynsley's behavior in this latest is bad, I'm willing to give her some leeway here. In reflection, he has always been a conflicted character. His whole relationship with Helen before their marriage was strange (not to speak of Deborah.) There's a lot in him that is less than honorable, and I think she's using his tragedy to explore those less admirable sides.So I give her credit for delving into people unsparingly.

I never expected him to end up with Barbara, who I like very much. That just seems too unbelievable. I'm interested to see where she goes with the return of the wife. That relationship, with a real family, seemed much more likely to bring Barbara happiness. I think we'll see some interesting developments there.

So, while I totally understand your reaction, I'm willing to stick with the series.

Janga said...

I agree that Elizabeth George is an extraordinarily talented writer, but I marked her off my list after With No One as Witness. I thought some reader reactions to Helen's death were extreme. I'd never say that a writer does not have the "right" to do as she wills with a character, who is her creation. But I also believe that reading is an active, participatory experience and readers also enjoy autonomy. I don't choose to bring my intelligence and imagination (and purse) to George's world post-Helen.

Christelle said...

Like you I greatly admire Elizabeth George and have read her mysteries for years now. I have found (I live in London btw) that it is quite clear George spends less and less time here.There is a clear line in her writing between her divorce/shift of agents. To me - unfortunately.
Many of her latest novels are too over populated, and I agree that the involvement with Ardery jars badly.The Bulger case reference is controversial to say the least here in the UK since it resurfaced a few months ago. Especially coming from an American author..
I also have to confess that killing Helen, at least here in the UK, did not cause any ripples. To us, she was an aimless woman,supported by Daddy until her mid 30-ties, with huge issues of making ANY choices. Had she only kept her stiff upper lip and stayed with St James, this whole mess had been avoided, really. It is not like she had a pressing agenda apart from Peter Jones and Harrod's sales..
Making an issue of Christening clothes, what depths have we sunken to?
All this said, I think Elizabeth George has a bigger picture in mind and just moved the chess pieces for a truly complicated next book. I think, and hope, she had to let time pass, before going forward. I will still give her credit for probably knowing the direction ( I have my own theory), letting it emerge slowly, but stand by my earlier statement that she cannot see the forrest for the trees anymore.
Havers and Lynley will not end up together in my thinking. I do believe she, reader of romance novels, has a huge crush on him and the forced make over will make Barbara face a certain feminity. My money is on John Stewart.
On this side of the pond, Elizabeth George readers after TBOD
are betting that St James and Helen were up to something more, hence all this male-female co-working attraction and agenda. Dreadful, aren't we? It is after all just fiction, and also in the eye of the beholder.
I find it very interesting to see what an American reader get from the books compared to the European's! The German's loathe Ardery and that is Elizbeth George's biggest market over here. Well they would, wouldn't they? Competence and order.
So, I thoroughly enjoyed your blog!
Thank you.

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