Friday, April 4, 2014

Elizabeth George: writing from, to and within the darkness

Mystery author Elizabeth George at Eugene Hilton

A featured presenter at Wordcrafters in Eugene, Elizabeth George is my favourite mystery writer. Her Inspector Lynley series, some of them televised on BBC, are a heady mixture of emotion, atmosphere and social commentary.

Her latest tome, Just One Evil Act, runs to 719 pages, and features Sergeant Barbara Havers at her most desperately insubordinate. An eccentric White Knight in red trainers, Havers is ready to risk all to save her neighbours.

Except for Inspector Lynley, ten-year-old Haddiyah and her single father Professor Taymullah Azhar are the only two people Barbara has allowed herself to become emotionally attached to.

So when Haddiyah is kidnapped, Havers is prepared to move heaven and earth to help. Even if she has to defy Superintendent Ardery's orders and lie to Lynley, her long-time partner and superior officer in the Metropolitan Police.   

As an unexpected benefit of listening to this novel on CD, which involves Italian as well as British police, I learned a bit of Italian. Teaching language in a novel is astonishing feat for a writer. Indeed, Ms. George has done so much with the mystery genre that it can scarcely be called that anymore. Recently, she's begun a new YA series, set on Whidbey Island, her home when she isn't doing research in England for her next mystery.

Her presence at the conference was a main reason I chose to attend. I made a point of being in all her sessions, and was also sitting near the front to hear her give an address on why writers write.

The speech, a spoken personal essay, really, was built around an eye-opening thesis. Like the events of her Inspector Lynley novels, especially What Came Before he Shot her, the impassioned words of this fascinating woman both surprised and didn't surprise me. She writes, says George, from the dark, to the dark, and in the dark. Thus does she cast light on a troubled world.

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