Reading Journal Entry: With No One As Witness, by Elizabeth George

I've been a big an of Elizabeth George for several years. Not big enough of a fan to buy the book, of course. I put myself on the waiting list at the Seattle Public Library and three months later they delivered me a 38 pound large-print paperback. But I am cheap; I am willing to suffer. Since it only took me about 36 hours to turn the book around it wasn't too much of a burden.

George's characters are a matched set of sleuths with many-layered and entangled histories. Old friends, upper and lower-class, about six characters (with associated coworkers) have twirled around each other for a dozen years and as many, or more, novels. They're just about tapped out; George's last two novels showcased, in A Traitor To Memory, a completely new character investigating a mystery from his past, and in A Place of Hiding, (no kidding) an old college roommate.

The latest installation delivers the facetime her fans have been craving, but at a cost. First, George trades the intricate psychological inspection of a single crime or crimes for the oft-retreaded ground of the serial killer. Borrowing a technique from her fellow American thriller writer, she includes scenes from the point of view of the psycho killer - not an improvement, in my opinion. Were these changes suggested by her editors as a way to make her work more similar to the blockbuster thrillers that dominate the market? Inquiring minds want to know.

Second, George fixes the problem of the characters not having much left to say to each other by giving the axe to an old friend, with hardly a by-your-leave. It didn't make much sense, and didn't seem fully integrated into the main series of killings. Frankly, it seemed a waste of a good death. But I have to admit I sobbed like a baby. And I have to admire the way she tied it all together thematically. BUT - and I am reluctant to be more specific - she really should have included more clinical details. I think the public is now sufficiently familiar with the situation in question. Especially when contrasted with the wealth of forensic detail provided in the examination of murder scenes, it seemed an odd ommission, and undermined the reality of the decision-making process.

Where to go from here? Certainly there are plenty of nice new psychological wounds for her to probe. But I just don't see the way forward, unless she tries to give poor bedraggled Barbara Havers a makeover and a boyfriend.

1 comment:

Maxine said...

I read this book just before I started Petrona so did not write up my thoughts, but I know just what you mean about the death and its bolted-on quality. I alluded to this in a review of a similar book by Deborah Crombie:
http://petrona-maxine.blogspot.com/2006/01/in-dark-house.html

I have a couple of theories about Elizabeth George, though.

1. Apparently there is a TV series of her Lynley books. I have not seen the series but it is possible that the death may be to do with that, maybe an actor's contract or the way the producers wanted the series to go. Apparently the TV series does deviate from the books quite a bit, according to the Dorothy L list, though the characters' names are the same.

2. POSSIBLE SPOLIER (though will try not to, but don't read on if you haven't read the book reviewed here) less cynically, my memory from reading all of this series (and enjoying them enough to actually buy the books, which is saying something!) is that they started out being much more about the aristocratic theme. The "PC Plod" (Barbara) themes have been gradually introduced in later books and so now they come to dominate. The whole "aristocratic policeman/forensic scientist" plot is wildly unrealistic, of course, and I suspect that EG thinks that it has just run its course, and she'd rather stick to the realism route, in which there are no Lord Wimseys et al in the police force in the UK (to my knowledge -- I've never read about any or encountered anything like that in the UK police force, not that I have had all that many dealings with them ;-), but have had a few over the years).

Maybe this is off the wall, but like you I found the latest EG book a dichotomy: part of it was as good as ever, but the other part was as if she'd decided to dispense with one whole area and didn't quite know how to -- or found it hard to bring herself to.

all the best, and thanks for the review -- as ever, a good read.