Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George

George, Elizabeth. A Great Deliverance. New York: Bantam Books, 1989.

(This was another title read for the mystery/detective book discussion book.)

Before I became a member of the mystery book discussion group, I wasn't someone who'd read a whole lot of mysteries. Yes, I'd gone through my teenaged "Agatha Christie" phase, and when I was younger, I had been completely hooked on the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series, and I had read about half a dozen Hardy Boy books, but other than that, nothing, really. I didn't even read Nancy Drew, which seems to be a female rite of passage in this country.

However, when I was in my twenties and early thirties, I discovered a number of authors that I liked. They were authors who belonged in the mystery genre, because they definitely wrote mysteries, but what hooked me on them had more to do with the ongoing stories of the main characters who showed up to solve the crimes rather than the mysteries themselves. Inevitably, I'd read one or two of the later books in the series and then would have to go back and start from the beginning and read them in order, because that was the only way I could get the full stories. I did this with the likes of Linda Barnes and Linda Fairstein and Elizabeth Peters. Janet Evanovich made it easy, because hers are all numbered, so I never read any of those out of order. Tom Corcoran only had two books out when I discovered him, so he was easy, too. Most recently, I've been following Jacqueline Winspear. Often what happens with these authors (Linda Barnes, Elizabeth Peters) is that I lose interest. I don't know why. I just do.

Maybe it's because once I begin to get a little behind in a series (which can easily happen, due to my natural tendency to savor rather than to gobble), I find that I can quite quickly begin to fall way behind, and it just becomes so overwhelming to try to catch up. Then, if I decide to try to catch up, I find I've forgotten so many of the details from the earlier books ("She's married to him? When did that happen? I thought they were sworn enemies"), I almost feel as though I need to go back and start again.

Anyway, that's sort of what happened to me with Elizabeth George. Only her books were a little bit different. I had a friend at work who lent me a few of her books that were published in the mid-nineties, and I got hooked, eagerly awaiting the next installment without having read the earlier works, mainly, I think, because they never seemed to be available at the library. Finally, one Christmas, I asked Bob to buy the first two in the series for me, and he kindly obliged. I still remember the first time I read this one. I was traveling to Chicago for a conference and finished it when I got stranded in the airport due to delays.

My reaction to it, back then, after having read her later works, was that I didn't like it much, despite getting some of the back story on the main characters I'd been missing. And my feelings must have been so strong that I never picked her back up again. This go-around, I can't quite understand what made me feel that way. Okay, some of the characters (all right, all right, put a gun to my head, all of the characters, just some much more than others --annoyingly so) are so stereotyped I can't figure out if she meant them to be serious, or if they were parodies (see: the American tourists in Yorkshire). Despite this irritation, though, as well as the other irritation of coming across something like 15 typos/grammatical errors before I'd reached page 100 (but that's not her fault. I can't blame editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders who fall down on the job on the author, although, has anyone else ever noticed that when you read someone like Julian Barnes, you rarely ever encounter such errors?), I enjoyed the book.

I liked George's attention to detail. As I did with the Christie (also a reread), I found myself paying much more attention to it, and discovering that she used it to her advantage. I guess all mystery writers do that, but it's easier to catch when you're revisiting a book. Complain, though I just have about it, some of the stereotyping was great, like the "Old Guard" at New Scotland Yard, men who, for instance, when the head of forensics is being too casually graphic, say things like,

"You're a ghoul, man! At least have the decency to remove that filthy coat
when you come here! Have you no sense at all? We've women on these floors!" (p.

(One of them, of course, being Sergeant Barbara Havers, who has probably been exposed to far worse than a coroner's filthy coat while on duty, and who is about to be paired with Inspecter Thomas Lynley.)

I liked the story of Havers and Lynley being so wary of each other and their having to work it out together. I remember liking St. James and Deborah and Helen (other characters found throughout the series), and I still do. I also like the way George hides skeletons in the closets of all these characters (just because they aren't murderers and murder victims themselves doesn't mean they don't have plenty to hide). I also liked George's sense of humor.

I guess, though, that this go-around, I just didn't like the plot, the actual case and the characters involved in it -- the skeletons in their closets. And, thinking back on it, I realize that that's what left a bad taste in my mouth the first go-round. It just was so unpleasant and didn't seem all that original. Not that murder is ever "pleasant," but I hope you know what I mean.

Then again, it may have had nothing to do with plot. Maybe it's just that I am a horrible snob when it comes to Americans writing books set in England, even though George does a very good job. The only hint I got of "American writing England" was that her American characters were so obnoxious. She overcompensated. Even the English themselves are more forgiving of us than she seemed to be. Don't worry. I am just as snobby about English authors thinking they can write books set in America. I don't care how well you may think you know the other country and its people, you don't. But that's just me, and it's one of the rare instances in which I hold tight to the old "write about what you know" dictum (usually, I'm tossing that thing out the window and watching it get carried off with the wind). Perhaps I just decided I wanted the "real thing" when it comes to English mysteries.

Whatever it was, it's gone. I'm hooked again, and how perfect that I've already gone back and started at the beginning. I'm going to go find the second book in the series, which I know is hiding somewhere on my shelves. I've got lots of catching up to do. The woman is prolific...Oh, who am I kidding? Just typing this last paragraph has me so overwhelmed, I'm practically hyperventilating. Maybe it's best, for a change, just to tiptoe around those snoring dogs lying about all over the place.


litlove said...

I've read two Elizabeth George's - one was For The Sake of Elena, which I loved wholeheartedly. The other I cna't recall the title of now because I gave it up halfway through, alienated and rather bored. It seems odd to me that a mystery writer (generally the cue for a reliable formula at least) should be inconsistent, but she does seem to be. I'd love to read more of her good ones, though, as FTSOE was fab.

Emily Barton said...

Litlove, hmmm, seems I must, at least, read For the Sake of Elena, then.

Smithereens said...

I was hooked to Elizabeth George's mysteries and read most of them (the problem is that I later watched the TV series and I got mixed up between what I read and what I saw). I confirm Litlove's good impression on FTSOE, and might add "In pursuit of the proper sinner" to your list. I didn't like "Careless in Red", it was not as good as her usual fare -- so I'm a bit hesitant to go on with her books.