Saturday, May 13, 2006

Elizabeth George and Inspector Lynley

I read a new Inspector Lynley mystery. I enjoy watching mysteries, but I read very few because so many mystery novels are dreadful. If I can guess who did it early on I'm pretty annoyed, and I get tired of series where the "whodunit" is the whole point. Elizabeth George walks a fine line--I usually enjoy her and find the stories thought provoking. I think she's getting better as a writer. She has a fairly straightforward style and her novels seem very structured. This was confirmed when I read her book on writing (what is seriously becoming a sub-genre--I've read several). She plots everything out completely. Then she gets the details. Then she forms the structure so that the chapters end with cliffhangers. It shows. Sometimes it's a little too formulaic. Contrast that with Stephen King who talks about getting some "What if" idea in his head or some image and then he just starts writing and sees where it goes. If I was trapped on a deserted island I'd rather have a Stephen King. For some reason this book was particularly overwritten. It could have been shorter by at least a third and not have suffered at all. For one thing she got stuck on the detail level. She's an American writer living in and writing about Britain. This book was full of very careful descriptions of how to get from point A to point B in London during rush hour. One or two of these would have been fine, but every single time a character traveled the streets and traffic conditions were described. She also seemed to lean a bit heavily on pointless simile--fairly cliched metaphor, "Like Cinderella without a ball to go to." I mean really.
I realize it seems a bit silly for me to criticize her for the length of her book while praising Stephen King, but somehow (with a few exceptions) I find Stephen's metaphors to be fresh and his books are as long as they need to be. It the case of "The Dark Tower" series I would have liked them to have gone on longer.
One strange thing is that this book had a scene that was in the televised version of the Lynley's last year in a different story--I'm still puzzled as to why that should be. The one thing that she does do well is to find true motivations for her characters and the tragedy is deeply painful and perfectly rendered.

Isn't it funny how a thousand words can be too few and ten words to many depending on the story, the style and the message?

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