Well, this one didn’t work out as planned. Several people whose taste I respect recommended Elizabeth George to me, so I was happy to pick up the first installment of her Inspector Lynley series, A Great Deliverance. There are lots and lots of books in this series, and I thought it would be fun to have a series to read that I could turn to whenever the mood struck. I’m not in the habit of reading through a series of mystery novels in an orderly way, and I thought it would be fun to try.
So what am I missing? I’m willing to admit in other circumstances I may have liked this book more, but as it is, I just never got caught up in the story. Those of you in the know, does she get better as she goes along?
The main problem is that I just never really “bought” the characters. I didn’t feel as though I was given enough information to make them come alive. Inspector Lynley struck me as annoyingly perfect. (But really, “annoying” is a word I’ve been using a lot lately, so perhaps I’m not being fair, and I can see that in another mood I might not mind unrealistic perfection at all.) He’s the 8th Earl of Asherton, and not only is he an earl, but he’s smart and charming and handsome and understanding and a great detective, etc., etc. He has some experience of suffering, but rather than making me pity him, this makes him seem even worse — he seems even more annoyingly perfect because his less-than-perfect life means he’s capable of compassion and a deeper understanding of other people. I think if I’d had a chance to get to know him better, his charm might have worked on me, but the novel’s introduction to him seemed too rushed, so I was left feeling distanced and unimpressed.
Given all of this, I might have been drawn to the other main character, Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, who resents Lynley’s perfections with a passion. She comes from a troubled family and a difficult past, and she is solidly working class. She is also very, very angry at the world, an anger she takes out on nearly everybody, but especially on Lynley. When she is assigned to work with him on a case, she is certain disaster is about to happen.
But I wasn’t particularly taken with Barbara either. Again, I didn’t have enough information about her to be able to care all that much about her pain. Instead, her self-sabotaging behavior just got irritating and her anger seemed excessive. Her psychological problems seemed overly obvious and contrived.
The story seemed fine, but the truth is, I never care all that much about the story; I look, instead, for some interesting people and ideas to think about. I’ll admit, things did start to get interesting right at the very end with the resolution of the mystery, but that’s much too late. The interesting ending makes me wonder if her later books take off in good directions — it seems there’s some potential there — but I’m not sure I want to take the time to find out.
I wonder if this is a matter of a new writer not having everything figured out yet, or perhaps the problem of getting a series underway — surely, if you envision a series based on your characters, it’s not easy to write a book that is complete on its own but also paves the way for future books.
Oh, well — if Elizabeth George isn’t for me, that’s okay! There are surely other mystery series that I will find more satisfying.