(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Elizabeth George’s novels are clearly descendants of Golden Age and postwar mystery novels, just as these classic mysteries are evolved from those written by nineteenth century Romantic novelists. However, her novels are distinctly different from the classic mysteries. One example of how George’s novels differ is in the nature of the crimes in all of her mysteries. They are violent and shocking, with solutions equally horrifying, yet unforced and logical.

George’s Sir Thomas Lynley series has details that remind readers of its forebears in the realm of English mysteries. George likes to make literary allusions, sometimes general, as with her mention of Charles Dickens in a number of her mysteries, but sometimes specific. Early in A Great Deliverance, the first work in the series, Lynley hears church bells like those in Dorothy L. Sayers’s The Nine Tailors (1934). George, an admirer of Sayers’s work, created Sir Thomas Lynley, Earl Asherton, a figure with a background that is similar to that of Lord Peter Wimsey, Sayers’s aristocratic detective hero. In many ways Lynley could have been a character from the Golden Age of British mystery fiction. Both Lynley and Wimsey are members of the upper class and have graduated from Eton and Oxford, where they earned first-class honors. Each has great wealth and worldly experience and has had multiple affairs with women. Each has a memorable mother and a brother who is a possible candidate for a crime. However, Lynley differs from Wimsey, who begins the series as somewhat of a clown, in having an introverted personality and a quick temper. Three-quarters of a century after the much loved and ever popular Golden Age of mystery writing, the detective novel has undergone many other changes. Whereas the cheery Wimsey is an amateur detective, Lynley is a professional with all the rules and regulations that go with his work, and his psyche from the onset is that of a darkly unhappy man with personal demons.

George, like all superior novelists, with each novel improves her writing. She strengthens the maturing protagonists, shaping them into believable human beings and making their dialogue less trivial as their daily lives become more realistic. Her readers have appreciated the changes, becoming further engrossed in the events that affect the characters.

A Great Deliverance

Elizabeth George’s first novel, A Great Deliverance, is an impressive prize winner. The novel opens in London, but the scene soon shifts to the exquisite but desolate Yorkshire countryside, where Roberta Tey, a young farm woman, has confessed to the beheading of her father. Because of the lack of significant evidence, Roberta’s confused mental state and incarceration in an asylum, and the refusal of her friends and neighbors to accept the possibility of her guilt, a difficult and complex investigation ensues. As Lynley and Havers search for the truth, many long-hidden secrets of the quiet, bucolic community are revealed. The final pages establish a pattern in George’s novel: They seldom end happily.

In 2001 the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) broadcast a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) film version of A Great Deliverance in the United States.


(The entire section is 1341 words.)