The Boston Herald

Inspector Lynley fans up in arms over plot twist in `Witness'

It's a crime, by George.

Fans of mystery writer Elizabeth George are burning up the Internet with complaints about a cruel plot twist at the end of her 13th Inspector Lynley mystery, ``With No One as Witness.''

The series features an elegant, aristocratic Scotland Yard inspector Thomas Lynley, an earl with a badge; his frumpy, lower-class sergeant Barbara Havers and a supporting cast of family, co-workers and love interests.

In the new book, George violently kills off one of these main characters. Without divulging who or how, the death has shocked the author's most faithful readers. And many have broadcast their anger on the World Wide Web.

``I was truly disgusted by the finale,'' writes one reader on Barnes & Noble's Web site. ``How totally unnecessary and what a terrible thing to inflict on the readers.''

``George dropped a nuclear bomb on the world that she had painstakingly created over nearly two decades,'' writes another.

The author doesn't fare any better at, where one reader exclaimed: ``Holy cannoli! What a shocker!''

Nor is George's own Web site spared angry postings, though one fan does give the author the benefit of the doubt.

``It is only a work of fiction,'' the fan wrote, ``and the characters are entirely of her creation, giving her the privilege of doing with them as she pleases.''

George is not the only writer to slay a well-liked character. Throughout history, authors have shaken up their fan base this way.

``They like to do it,'' said Judith Wilt, professor of English at Boston College, who has taught courses in detective fiction. ``And they don't like to be trapped by readers into not killing someone.''

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed Sherlock Holmes once. Even without the Internet as a forum, protest was loud enough to force Doyle to later contrive a resurrection.

J.K. Rowling has announced she has killed one of her characters in the next Harry Potter book. Fan fury has already begun even though that character has not yet been identified.

TV fans also are shocked when favorite characters suddenly die: Henry Blake in ``M*A*S*H,'' Mrs. Landingham on ``The West Wing,'' Tara and Joyce on ``Buffy the Vampire Slayer.''

Wilt said writers do wrestle with sudden death as a plot device.

``Many times we read in novelists' diaries, from Dickens to current writers, the mingled delight and nervousness about killing a continuing character,'' she said.

Wilt has read the Lynley and Havers series and was not upset by the recent book's turn.

``I liked the surprise,'' she said. ``I think Elizabeth George is trying her wings out on a kind of pathos she hasn't done before. It's the sort of thing that shakes up the series.''

And one reader has fired back in George's defense on the Amazon site:

``Bravo, Ms. George,'' the reader wrote. ``What you did was brave and necessary to shift the series in a different direction. Lynley-Havers fans, trust me on this. You will not be disappointed!''

They certainly won't be silent.

Copyright 2005 Boston Herald Inc. 
All Rights Reserved