Good Reading : July 2005
16 goodreading ‘I never considered before that A Great Deliverance was accepted because Havers was in the book, but that could very well be one of the reasons why’, she says when I suggest this to her. Whether or not this was the case, it was a smart move.The Lynley and Havers pro- fessional pairing is the kind of odd-couple partnership which has been at the centre of many popular cop movies or TV shows for the past couple of decades. (Their relation- ship is also central to the recent BBC TV adaptation of George’s series.) Though classic mysteries with titled sleuths such as those by Dorothy L Sayers and Ngaio Marsh will never go out of print or out of fashion, the major trend, back in 1988, wasn’t for this sort of story.There was, however, a vogue for books that featured characters like Barbara Havers. She might well be the long-lost English cousin of 1980s favourite private eye Kinsey Milhone. Barbara’s exclusively unk food diet, however, makes Kinsey, with her occasional craving for a Big Mac nd fries, seem like a health nut by com- rison, and there is no contest as to who is e more style-challenged. George gets a lot of enjoyment out of nking up inscriptions for the front of outrageous t-shirts Havers insists on ring. ‘I think my favourite was the one ch said something like ‘Cock Robin rved To Die’. If there’s a dress code he Yard, and there must be, George s, Havers doesn’t care, which makes a refreshing fantasy figure for women these days of the mandatory make- over. (And which probably explains why Barbara Havers’ creator is the well-put together woman in front of me, dressed in becomingly tasteful earth tones: it must be as liberating for George to write about Havers as it is for us to read about her.) One of the best things about Elizabeth George’s books is how she challenges her readers, especially in the area of whodunit. Inoneofthenovels–Iwon’tsaywhich–a close friend of a main character and the very person we expect to be exonerated turns out to be the murderer, a plot twist which ranks close in daring and cleverness to the one Agatha Christie pulled when she made the narrator the murderer in Who Killed Roger Ackroyd? There’s another nicely nasty plot twist to the solution of the crimes investigated in With No One As Witness, where the serial killings of a number of teenage boys, some of mixed race, some of black heritage, and one white, has Lynley’s new boss afraid of being accused by the media of racism. The big surprise here, however – and don’t read any further if you haven’t read the book, and want to come to it cold – is that one of George’s regular series characters, whom I will refer to as X, dies.Was it difficult, I asked George, for her to kill off someone so significant? ‘X was always a character close to my heart, and easy to write about,’ she replied. ‘It’s always a scary thing to do but anytime a writer is writing a series the decision has to be made whether to freeze the characters in time, place and circum- stance or to allow things to happen to those characters that would happen to them in real life. I made the decision early on that I wanted my characters to move forward in time, place and circumstance, although they move forward quite slowly, otherwise they’d all be in their fif- ties now, and they’re clearly not. So I wanted to move them slowly forward through time, and that would mean that there would be changes in their lives.This is a pretty traumatic change that I brought about, but it is also thematically unified with the rest of the book, which is about grievous loss, individuals facing grievous loss and how they cope with that.’ George was prepared for a degree of criti- cism about what happens to X, not necessarily because X dies, but because the death involves another main character in one of the juicy moral dilemmas she presents them with on a regular basis. ‘But as far as I know no-one has written me, or posted a protest on my website.’ What she didn’t anticipate though, was the outpouring of emotion displayed by fans. ‘This is what I think actually happened. I think that people are reacting to their own reaction. I think that they were incredibly moved by the death, and they didn’t expect to be.’ author profile The Lynley and Havers professional pairing is the kind of odd- couple partnership which has been at the centre of many popular cop movies or TV shows for the past couple of decades.