Staff Musings

February 21, 2008

Elizabeth George is Awesome

Filed under: Mystery & Suspense — carricee @ 12:37 am

It’s not often that I get so involved in a mystery that I nab the next book in the series before anyone else can get to it, but that was before I discovered Elizabeth George.

Now to be honest, I am technically familiar with her. I listened to the novel A Traitor to Memory on audiobook once when we had a copy at the store. See, I like to perform the public service of listening to all of the audiobooks we get in that I can to make sure they don’t skip. Aren’t I a great employee? Now obviously I knew after listening to this that the audiobook was great, but I don’t usually connect how I experience an audiobook with how I experience a book that I read myself. It’s more like listening to a radio play or something. Just because I like Prairie Home Companion doesn’t mean I want to read Garrison Keillor’s novels.

Oh, how wrong I was. If only I could go back in time, and instead of just nod appreciatively at the end of the book and scour the shelves for something else to keep me occupied on my ridiculously long drive back then…well then I guess I wouldn’t have the pleasure of reading her now!

The Lynley mysteries are just amazing. Not only are they good mysteries, they contain a depth that you rarely find in the genre. Everything you can find in the most pretentious literary fiction you can find here. This isn’t Law and Order; the characters, including the cops and not just the victims, are fully fleshed out and make you care about them. And I think that’s what I like so much about them. I do read quite a few mysteries, but usually I read them as a way not to think – if I’m tired at night and don’t want to get involved in something, but just want something to help my brain stop shouting at me so much (SHUT UP, BRAIN!).

Elizabeth George doesn’t beat you over the head with platitudes like a lot of litfic writers do, nor does she introduce you to a dead body and have people run around a city doing nothing but drinking coffee and talking to shady characters until they solve the crime. Nor are the murders so gruesome that they make me want to never, ever read her again, which is a good thing. Her characters consistently have issues they have to deal with apart from their jobs, and they show growth throughout the novels. They make assumptions based on their own experiences that are incorrect, they have to deal with real people in bad or good situations, their lives conflict with and coincide with their cases in the most inopportune ways. They observe society through the patina of their jobs, and at times they are callous, but most of the time they manage to make some really amazing connections about human life through the events they observe; in fact it’s so well done that I’ve actually marked passages to show to friends who are going through similar issues.

I do have to warn you, her books are set in the strange and wondrous country of England, and her main character is some type of fancy-pants lordy guy. But I promise, he doesn’t act like it. Though she’s an American, she does a great job of communicating the class issues and divisions that are still present there – but if you as a reader aren’t familiar with the society structure it may be daunting, I’m not sure. I was rather surprised she was American when I read her biography on her website; I just assumed that she was British since she wrote British mystery novels. I should have known that didn’t matter from the hugely ridiculous list I made of Scottish historical romance writers I made at the store today for our customers! I doubt many of those writers are from 17th century Scotland.

Her Inspector Lynley mysteries were actually made into a show for the BBC! That eliminated any doubt of British cred I thought might have just been my American public school ignorance (for Brits, public school here means exactly the opposite of what it does there). You can get them on Netflix! I just added one to our queue, though we’ll have to wade through Lost, Black Adder, Monty Python, Absolutely Fabulous, Memoirs of a Geisha (me), and 28 Weeks Later (um…zombie-lovin’ husband) before we can see it.

If YOUR Netflix queue is also ridiculous, why, you should just stop in at the bookstore and pick them up in novel form! Then you can tell your family how different the show was from the book when you finally get it. That’s always much appreciated and an appropriate fannish response.


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