A class act

I've never seen or read any of the Inspector Lynley mysteries. I must say that they've never appealed to me - except for Lord Peter Wimsey, I've never had much time for the toff detective. Something else that I found off-putting is that the author, Elizabeth George, is American. It's not that I dislike American authors (I should read a lot more American fiction than I do), it's more that I find American writers writing about British life an uncomfortable read, they never quite get it right in terms of ordinary day-to-day life. So, as a British reader, you are presented with an odd view of Britain, that's just slightly "off", and this oddness prevents me from engaging fully with the story. American readers please read on before throwing brickbats at Bookhound....

I had read a non-Inspector Lynley mystery by George, and had enjoyed it. So while rushing round the library 10 minutes before closing time and trying to select 12 books at speed I grabbed the humungous (only slightly shorter than Brothers Karamazov weighing in at 800 pages) A traitor to memory. It was only when I started to read it that I realised it was a Lynley mystery.

I'm very glad I hadn't realised this ealier as I would probably have left the book on the shelf, and that would have been a pity as I've just discovered a great crime writer, one who kept me completely hooked throughout the 800 pages, and who, oh so nearly, passed as British. Her only errors re Britishness were musically related, and she might have got away with that too if I hadn't been a musician and so was ultra-aware of musical phraseology.

A traitor to memory is a cracking read. There are two distinct narrative strands - the main crime story consisting of a series of hit and runs which appear to be related to the murder of a disabled child more than twenty years ago; and a diary kept by a young violinist, Gideon Davies, a former infant prodigy and brother to the murdered child, who has suddenly lost all ability to play. His diary is part of the therapy advised by his psychiatrist.

It's only when you get a long way into the book that you realise that George is playing with the chronology of the mystery. Time moves backwards and forwards, and by the time you realise this you are as confused by this as Gideon is by his memory loss. It's an odd disconcerting tale dealing with madness, loss, and obsession.

It's beautifully written grabbing the reader from the first page and refusing to let go. It may be 800 pages, but it rips along at a furious pace, and no word is unessential to the plot. I felt breathless at the close of the novel, and very pleased to discover that I had just met a brand new favourite author. I had first heard of Elizabeth George when she wrote a preface to a new edition of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. She's a Dorothy L. Sayers fan and was thrilled to be compared to her heroine in an early review. The comparison was justified. She has a gift for narrative and for building a complex crime scenario with numerous threads. She's also great at characterisation. Although Lynley and Havers, his sidekick, are central to the narrative, there is an entourage around them worthy of Lord Peter Wimsey. What she does really cleverly is make you care about these people. You don't just want the crime to be solved, you want to know what happens to these central characters that you've grown to love through the course of the action. Brilliant writing, brilliant reading - and I will never say again that an American writer can't write with veracity about British life.


Popular Posts