REVIEWS - A TRAITOR TO MEMORY
Wall Street Journal
Writer Seeks Her Inspiration Across The Pond"
- Tom Nolan
Huntington Beach, Calif.
ON THE SECOND FLOOR of a house in a gated community in Orange County, in an office cooled by a breeze from the Pacific Ocean, a petite Southern California woman writes detective novels that a casual reader might think had been written in England by a native British subject. The woman is Elizabeth George, a native Ohioan raised in Northern California. Her 10th book featuring New Scotland Yard Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and his colleagues, "A Traitor to Memory," has been selling briskly.
Ms. George says she's never been tempted to set her popular fiction closer to home. "I think my soul needs to soar for me to be able to write about a place," the author explains. "I need to really have a spiritual connection with it. When I look at Southern California, it's sort of a place of concrete and chaparral-and that doesn't make my soul soar."
The 52-year-old writer's strong connection with England began in her 17th summer, when she visited London as part of a group of students studying Shakespeare. "This was during the '60s," she recalls, "when music and fashions and pop art and film were sort of infiltrating the United States from England. To be in London at that time was very exciting. I fell in love with it."
Ms. George has returned to the U.K. many times since, making literary pilgrimages to such soul-soaring places as Alnwick Castle (home of Harry Hotspur) and Ashby de la Zouche (where Ivanhoe jousted), and researching the detective novels she began publishing in 1988.
The California resident also maintains a flat in London's South Kensington district. "It's a great sense of coming home that I feel when I go to England," she says. "I can't really explain why."
After finishing college, Elizabeth George became a high-school teacher-of English, of course. While leading an elective class on the English mystery novel, she had the notion she might be able to write such a book herself.
Ms. George met that challenge with the same dedication that once earned her an award as Orange County Teacher Of The Year. When Bantam bought her first Thomas Lynley novel, "A Great Deliverance," she had already completed the series' next two books.
All her novels are the product of thorough research, Ms. George says. "For 'A Traitor to Memory,' I knew that I was going to have something in the book to do with the British legal system; so I met with and interviewed several barristers and a judge. I went to the Old Bailey to see what that looked like. I knew there was going to be an element that dealt with the women's prison system, so I met with the warden at Holloway Prison in North London. I knew that the book would also deal with nannies, so I went to Norland College, which is where they train these very top-of-the-line professional nannies; I met with the principal and watched the nannies in training."
For a hook set at Cambridge, Ms. George took two summer sessions at the university and, during regular term, "shadowed" a student for a week. Before doing a novel that took place in a private school, she wrote an entire prospectus for her fictional academy and created an architectural plan of its buildings.
Despite her taking such pains to ensure the accuracy of books which are widely read in England and Germany as well as the U.S., there are still nitpickers, Ms. George says-usually English critics. "They're the only ones. They can usually find one or two little things to give me a bad time about. It's generally not anything technical or about any setting or cultural detail or social institution. One time it was one phrase, a slang expression that (Detective Constable) Barbara Havers had used. And I think it's sort of silly when people say, 'No English person would ever say that'-because how could anybody possibly know what every English person in Great Britain would or wouldn't say?"
Slang police aside, many readers in the U.K. seem to feel that Elizabeth George does a fine job of re-creating their country and its traditions. The BBC is filming adaptations of five of her books, the first of which will be seen in America on PBS's "Mystery!" early. next year.
Perhaps one reason for the international appeal of Ms. George's books is the author's personal knowledge of some of the difficulties experienced by her characters, whose families are often dysfunctional. As a child, Ms. George' says, she was one of two children of parents who lived geographically far from their own relatives. "I grew up without any extended family, and I really, my entire life, as missed and mourned that.
Though she was married for 24 years, Ms. George has no children (She and her husband, also a former teacher and school-district supervisor, divorced in 1995, but he is still her business manager.)
Since adolescence, Ms. George, like others in her family, has struggled with depression. "I didn't know for how long a time that it was really brain chemistry," she says. "I just thought there was something wrong with me."
Until 1995, she resisted getting treatment for fear might it might interfere with her creativity. "But finally," she recalls, "one day I picked up a book that listed the symptoms of depression. I think there were nine or 10, and I had something like seven of them. So at that point, I thought it was really time to see what I could do about the problem. I was under the care of a psychiatrist who helped me with medication but at the same time laid out some guidelines about how I was going to have to live and structure my life. 'Cause it's more than just taking a pill; there's really no happy pill, I think, at least in my case.
Ms. George says she still feels most at peace when she is writing. The resourceful author even turned difficult personal experience to the good advantage of her current book.
"One of the characters in 'A Traitor to Memory' has psychogenic amnesia," she says, "so to go over the details of how I wanted this character to deal with his problem, I met twice with my former psychiatrist; he was one of the resource people for the book.
Article copyright by The
Wall street Journal
Richmond Times Dispatch
Novel Rises Above Mystery Genre"
- Jay Stafford
As the song goes, "Memories light the corners of our minds." But what if the memories are dim, inaccurate, or repressed? Does the past then cease to affect us? Or does the present become even more confusing and dangerous?
Such are the themes Elizabeth George examines in A Traitor to Memory, her eleventh novel And what an addictive, compelling novel it is.
THE PLOT centers on the hit-and-run murder of middle-aged divorcee Eugenie Davies. The suspects include, but are not limited to:
- Gideon Davies, Eugenie's 28-year old son, a violin virtuoso whose music has deserted him and who is in therapy to try to find out why.
- Richard Davies, Eugenie's former husband.
- Raphael Robson, Gideon's mentor.
- Ktja Wolf, the German nanny who was convicted of killing Eugenie and Richard's toddler daughter, Sonia, and has recently been freed after 20 years in prison.
- J. W. Pitchley, the finder of Eugenie's body, and, in a previous life with a different name, a lodger in the Davies home. Inexplicably, his address is found on Eugenie's body.
For the aristocratic Detective Inspector Thomas Lvnlev and his subordinates, Detective Constables Barbara Havers and Winston Nkata, the case takes on dramatic personal overtones. Their boss, Superintendent Malcolm Webberly, was among the investigators at the time of Sonia Davies' death. And he later struck up an extramarital relationship with Eugenie Davies.
AS IS HER wont, Miss George imbues her work with parallelism. The plot moves on twin tracks of storytelling:
straight narrative and the therapeutic self-examinations of Gideon Davies. And in another sense, the overarching theme here - family secrets - is played out in the Davies story as well as in the lives of Lynley, his newly pregnant wife Helen, and their longtime friends, Simon Alcourt-St. James and his wife, Deborah.
But the detectives take a back seat in this novel, which is less a police procedural than an examination of character, particularly that of Gideon Davies. Miss George, like P.D. James and Ruth Rendell, has greatly expanded the limits of the mystery genre; A Traitor to Memory, like its predecessors, stands up well as straight fiction.
WHICH IS not to say it is flawless. Even veteran mystery readers will not be certain exactly what happened 6n the night Sonia Davies died. Perhaps that is Miss George's comment on messiness of life and the so times unattainable nature truth.
But as maddening as that ambiguity may be, A Traitor Memory is a worthy addition to Miss George's canon. With level of her prose undiminished, with a story that, if not baffling, is certainly complex, and with the continued growth of her recurring characters, Miss George has fashioned another fine novel, one that her devotees will treasure - and one that will add to her already burnished reputation.
Jay Strafford is a copy editor for the Times-Dispatch.
The Denver Post
"A British mystery big enough to wallow in George's chapters build to symphony."
- Diane Hariman
Like the good novelist she is, Elizabeth George doesn't let political correctness, squeamishness, a desire to be proper, or fear of cybersex get in her way. Thank goodness.
And, as she is increasingly inclined to do, this 11th "British" book of hers is big
- 722 pages. So you can wallow a while, not being afraid it's going to end too soon.
I love the stretch of characters. There are harpies and backstabbers, overbearing parents and gossipy servants. A character's neurosis might be run-of-the-mill or flat-out frightening. Moral dilemmas abound, as do family difficulties. Always, as if to anchor adoring fans, we get glimpses of reclusive forensic scientist Simon St. James and his wife, the somewhat delicate and depressed Deborah. We see much more of Lord Asherton, Detective Inspector Thomas Lindley with New Scotland Yard, and his partner in solving crime, Barbara Haver, always known for taking two muffins more than she needs and then spilling jam on her blouse. Lyndley's pregnant wife, Lady Helen, doesn't star, hot is around for practical advice and stalwart support.
This book is built around child prodigy Gideon Davies, who, according to his "leg-end," snatched up a violin at 3 years old and played Paganini's D Major concerto. Not quite true, he tells his shrink Dr. Rose. But what's true, and the reason Dr. Rose is having him write memories in a journal, is that at age 28, after playing in public for 21 years to universal acclaim, he stands in front of an audience and finds he cannot play a note.
To start with, each chapter is like having a different instrument played. For a while you wonder when it will start to sound like an orchestra. Readers just have to trust that George will bring it all together.
The common thread is Gideon. We realize that besides losing his ability to play, he's lost his memory and he is left to grope helplessly for some sanity and stability. His voice, as he talks to Dr. Rose or writes in his journal, is at times egotistical, childish, furious and then, encouragingly, he has an insight, remembers a name or an incident. What seems like randomness turns into a frantic search. Infuriatingly, the people who populate his life give him only bits and pieces, subtle hints and misinformation.
Gideon rents out his basement apartment to a young American girl named Libby, and they become friends. She's the only one, ill the thick soup of odd, pressing characters, who doesn't care if he plays his violin again. She just wants him to be happy and realize he's "just a guy who plays a fiddle." She and Gideon's father, who snarls and pushes his son to get started again, are always at odds.
Sometimes the "murder" in George's mysteries seems incidental. But there is one the early pages - a woman is run over again and again in the streets of rainy London. Inspector Lindley recognizes her, and when he visits her home takes a packet of letters and her laptop breach of police procedure that shocks Haver and almost gets them both in trouble. But not until later in the story do w realize the huge importance of that deliberate hit and run.
Certainly, Gideon has a connection to the person killed, which he sees as he delves deeper and deeper into his memories.
We do find out there was another murder earlier, and as the pace accelerates there are more.
The reader comes to know that there are mysteries piled on mysteries and instead of getting clearer, the story becomes denser and more complex. George likes to take us down many roads, as if say "Is this it? Or, is this it?" Nobody is who he seems to be.
The mystery reader, always trying is come to conclusions about whodunit and why, keeps having to change theories. Even to the last page, when one would think things are settled, Gideon's actions hark back to the original murder and you re inclined just to start the book over and try again.
Diane Harfman, an assistant executive director for the Denver and Colorado bar associations, is a former journalist and educator.
"Pace, depth mark new work."
- P. G. Koch
George is one of those Americans who seem able to effortlessly channel the dogged procedures and fast bureaucratic footwork of a British criminal investigation. With ample justification, her series featuring the reluctantly aristocratic Detective Inspector Thomas Finley and his~ blunt-mannered, sartorially challenged partner, Barbara Havers, has earned wide critical acclaim.
Her latest in the series, A Traitor To Memory (Bantam, $26.95), opens at a generous pace. A hugely fat woman who treats sexual dysfunction is run down in the street. A young violinist writes with resentment and exasperation in a journal to his psychiatrist, trying to retrieve lost memories. A widowed major, hauling his aged (and perfectly rendered) golden retriever along, decorously stalks a woman with whom he is in love. That woman, Eugenie, then drives to London, where she too is appallingly run down in the street.
This is the crime around which George leisurely begins to coalesce further players, from the pseudonymous 'TongueMan," who seduces middle-aged women on the Internet, to the flu-ridden DCI Leach. Only then does she bring her detectives onstage, subtly teasing them out of the crowd at the 25th wedding anniversary of Detective Superintendent Webberly of New
Scotland Yard and his acutely agoraphobic wife.
It's a masterly performance. Even more so than PD. James and Minette Waters, with whom she inspires comparison, George seems to embrace the narrative depth and reflective pace of the 19th century novel. Not only principals a shared history that unobtrusively fills the background perspective but she grants even seemingly peripheral characters their rich and complete due.
It is all accomplished with a light hand, though, letting the reader slide with no sense of burden into a world. In this case, George proceeds to set up a counterpoint between events in the November gloom of Eugenie's murder and the increasingly agonized explorations of Gideon's journal, begun in August not long after he froze before a performance and, as he describes it, 'lost the music." Her plot is so carefully made, and so dependent on Gideon's gradual revelations, that it would be a disservice to say more.
A Traitor To memory is a wonderfully realized book.
"First-rate suspense with a stunner of an ending.
George writes Victorian novel-length mysteries (this latest weighs in at more than 700 pages) that fairly zip along, keeping the reader on the knife's edge of suspense, thanks to George's skill at weaving together intriguing characters, disturbing action, police procedure, psychological insight, and mordant wit. In this, the eleventh installment in the Lynley-Havers series, the Derbyshire detectives are called to London, at the behest of their superintendent, to investigate a vehicular homicide. The female hit-and-run victim was at the core of a celebrated child-murder case years before. George makes this far more a novel of character than a procedural by shifting points of view from the aristocratic, cerebral Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley to his rough-hewn, unmarried, somewhat bitter partner, Detective Constable Barbara
Havers, and to the estranged son of the murder victim, a celebrated violinist tortured by his baby sister's death. First-rate suspense with a stunner of an ending.
"Faithful readers of George's previous mysteries should find this the most ambitious of the lot."
Classical music, cybersex and vehicular homicide figure prominently in this sprawling epic, the latest in the bestselling Thomas Lynley series that has won George an enviable following on both sides of the Atlantic. This can only add to her growing reputation as doyenne of English mystery novelists. When Eugenie Davies is killed on a London street - struck by a car, then viciously mangled as the driver backs over her - Detective Inspector Lynley investigates. The suspects include J.W. Pichley, aka TongueMan, a cyber-roue' with a penchant for older women; Katja Wolff, convicted murderess of Davies's infant daughter; and Major Ted Wiley, a bookstore proprietor in love with Davies. Inevitably, the trail leads to the dead woman's son, Gideon, a former child prodigy on the violin, now a renowned virtuoso suddenly - and inexplicably - unable to play a single note. Lynley and his longtime partners, Barbara Havers and Winston Nkata, unravel the mystery in their inimitable fashion, as the narrative turns backward, ever backward, in search of clues. Though some plot developments are initially confusing due to the book's occasionally non-linear style, the author's handling of narrative is consistently inventive. There are some amusing character sketches (including the skewering of an American Valley Girl to whom classical music is as foreign as Sanskrit) and some particularly moving moments. Faithful readers of George's previous mysteries should find this the most ambitious of the lot.
Forecast: With the BBC adaptation of the first Lynley case, A Great Deliverance due to premier on
US TV this fall, George stands to scale new heights in
"If dogged police work is what you demand from mysteries, hit the sidewalk with these complicated British detectives."
I have to confess that I was very impatient with the first 100 pages of this 700- plus-page book. It's just that George is a master storyteller, and I knew I was in for a superbly paced, all-consuming treat.
This time out, Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and partners Barbara Havers and Winston Nkata have a hit-and-run murder on their hands. Things are complicated by the fact that the murder appears to be tied to the death of the victim's Down syndrome daughter 20 years before. Also tied to the mystery is why violin prodigy Gideon Davies is suffering from psychogenic amnesia - he has forgotten how to play the violin and is in therapy to help ferret out the psychological cause.
Both story lines are the fascinating backdrop for an unrelenting, up-close look at how the past always seems to worm its way into the present, how we allow certain memories to reside within us, and how we conveniently forget what we'd rather not remember. As in her other books, George has the ability to display and then dissect her characters in a painfully realistic way. If dogged police work is what you demand from mysteries, hit the sidewalk with these complicated British detectives.
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