The Day – Elizabeth George talks about writing her 21st Inspector Lynley novel


Elizabeth George has an endgame for her bestselling Inspector Thomas Lynley mysteries – the most recent of which, ‘Something to Hide’, hit bookstores on January 11. But, to the relief of the show’s many fans, she hasn’t gotten there yet.

George, speaking in a telephone interview from her home in Seattle, said she was always thrilled to start a new Lynley book: “There’s always a sense of homecoming when the characters step onto the page, as if I were seeing them again after a long break.” (Formerly from Whidbey Island, George now writes her novels in the UK from an office on Capitol Hill.) Although she “has known for a very long time where the characters are heading and how their stories will eventually end,” George said that she has yet to figure out exactly how to get them to this point. “Also, I don’t want to close anyone’s story by being rushed. I think it’s really important to keep opening up a character’s story.”

So those who have long loved this series, which began in 1988 with “A Great Deliverance,” need not worry about closure as they dive into “Something to Hide.” It is the 21st book to introduce the gentleman, the patrician Lynley – he is, in fact, the eighth Earl of Asherton, and currently the Acting Chief Superintendent of London’s New Scotland Yard – and his wry, love-loving partner. junk food, Detective Sergeant Barbara. Havers. In this volume, Lynley, Havers and their colleague, Detective Sergeant Winston Nkata, are called upon when a police detective working in a special task force is murdered. As is typical of George’s novels, several plots begin to converge, and characters new and old come to the fore (including Lynley’s longtime friend Deborah St. James and Nkata’s caring mother, Alice) .

Much of the book is set within the Nigerian community in north London, and George said she specifically asked her UK publisher to ask a female Nigerian reader to review a draft and give her opinion, in particularly on issues related to ritual genital cutting (an important element in one of the book’s subplots involving a Nigerian immigrant family). But after much research on the subject, she was convinced that she understood the issues. “In a way, I’ve been doing this my whole career, writing about other cultures,” George said. “That’s what I’ve always tried to do with great sensitivity and respect.”

“Something to Hide” was particularly challenging not only for its subject matter, but its complicated timeline; George said she had to write five drafts before she had one she was completely satisfied with. A long-time teacher of writing (whose process she explored in her recent non-fiction book “Mastering the Process: From Idea to Novel”), George described the timeline problem as “keeping the reader in the right part of the wave – the plot is the breaking wave, and the reader is either riding the wave or swimming fast to catch up with it. The reader cannot be in front. While working on the book, she sometimes came “to a certain point and realized, OK, the drive is in the wrong place, so I have to start over. It took me a lot longer than my books normally do. I was really happy when I was able to fix the problem and successfully modify the book so that the timeline worked.”

George traveled to London to research the novel in 2018, visiting the neighborhoods where his story would be set and talking to the people who lived there. It was a good time: she ended up finishing the novel during the pandemic – “I just kept going to my desk; my days were like they always were.” Although she relies mainly on the many notes and photographs of her research, the Internet sometimes gives her a hand: she has found the house of a young character, in the London suburb of Stoke Newington, on Google Earth – “exactly the house his family would probably live in.”

As always, George took particular pleasure in the character of Barbara Havers, whose T-shirts are legendary. (The one she sports in “Something to Hide” reads “Being cremated is my last hope for a smoking body.”) In this book, Barbara discovers Pop-Tarts as breakfast food (“They were mean enough that I thought they’d make it work for Barbara,” George said) and continues to say exactly what she thinks.

“She’s a lot of fun to write about, and that’s partly because she has bite,” George said. “What I tell my writing students is that it’s always easier to write a character who’s got an edge. It’s a lot harder to write a character who’s generally a nice person. This no one, with no edge, seems to have nothing to snag a reader on… So it’s hard to portray that without ending up with someone who looks like Pollyanna. That’s why Havers sort of exists for giving me a good time, and she’s so funny. I never know for sure what she’s going to say, I literally don’t know where she’s from, but she’s been a big part of my brain.”

Currently working on a young adult novel, George nevertheless has Lynley’s next book in mind and was able to take a research trip to London and Cornwall last fall. “Basically I’m a literary sleuth, I go out and check all these different places for potential stories,” she said. She has to finish the YA novel before moving on to Lynley, but the 22nd book in the series is already taking shape in her mind: “I have the typed photos and interviews. I know what the crime is, I know where the story is. takes place.”

One day, she will finish the Lynley/Havers saga, but she does not plan to do so anytime soon. “The timing is something I’m not sure about,” she said. “But ultimately, before I jump in, I’d like to end the series so that the reader has an ending – so they can see that it’s come full circle.”

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