Really?

Warning: This post is full – chock full – of spoilers for Just One Evil Act.

Fun fact: Elizabeth George taught English at my high school. I never had her as a teacher, and she wouldn’t know me from Adam, but the fact that she taught my school when her first book was published was the reason I read it, and nearly all her others. At this point, she’s been publishing and I’ve been reading for a quarter century, which I guess makes me old and her older. I went through a mystery-reading phase in junior high and high school, but obviously it’s not my primary genre of choice – or I’d be publishing All About Mysteries instead of All About Romance. Nonetheless, I’ve stuck with Elizabeth George because I liked her characters and settings.

But now, half way through Just One Evil Act, I think I might be done. I’m not sure if I’m even going to finish it, though maybe one of you can talk me into it if you promise me that things turn around. If you’ve kept up with George, you know where the problem started – with the death of Lady Helen and her unborn child at the hands of a young gunman. Has anyone in George’s readership truly forgiven her for that? I doubt it. I figured I forgave her more readily than most, since I pretty much kept reading (with the exception of What Came Before He Shot Her – because I couldn’t have cared less what came before he shot her). But I’ll defend Careless in Red, which revolves around the grieving Thomas Lynley, as a good book, even though I was still pissed about Helen and the baby. But then he started nailing his bitchy, alcoholic boss (who oddly enough actually seems to be a better person in Just One Evil Act) and pursuing an unlikely and only borderline interesting liaison with a roller derby-playing veterinarian. This didn’t really help my interest any.

But what’s made me stop cold (and here is where the huge spoilers begin, so if you want to wait so you can be disappointed and annoyed yourself, feel free to stop reading here) is the behavior of Barbara Havers and Taymullah Azhar in the latest book. Basically, Azhar plots to kidnap his daughter and spirit her away to Pakistan, and when I stopped reading, Barbara had just found out about it and was about to lie to her superiors (including Lynley, who over the course of the series has repeatedly gone to bat for her) and cover for him. Really?

Really? Can’t Barbara maintain her integrity? She’s had a rough go of it. She’s not wealthy. Her only family left is her mother, who suffers from dementia. She’s dumpy and unlucky in love. Can’t she at least have the courage of her convictions? And Azhar has already abandoned one family so he could pursue a flighty, attractive woman. On what planet are his actions here okay? Like Lynley and Barbara, He’s not the person I thought he was.

Which brings me full circle to the reason I read romance: I like happy endings. I realize that real life is not all sunshine and rainbows, and that real life happens after you get married and ride off into the sunset together. I’ve been married for almost 25 years myself, so I also know real life includes arguments about spending, kids who get in trouble and do stupid things, and plenty of laundry and job stress. But I also like books where all those things happen to people and they work it out together. Call me a cock-eyed optimist.

So tell me: Has anyone else read this? Will something happen that will turn my opinion around? Or should I just go compensate by baking cookies, watching The Holiday, and reading some dependable Julia Quinn?

22 Responses to “Really?”

  1. maggie b. says:

    Or should I just go compensate by baking cookies, watching The Holiday, and reading some dependable Julia Quinn?

    I don’t read George so can’t answer your questions about the book but I would go with the above.

    And btw, the reason I don’t read George is because of What Happened Before He Shot Her Awful book.

  2. Dabney AAR says:

    My husband hated that book. Hated it. I was going to read it, but after his experience, I have no plans to.

  3. Karen says:

    I loved Elizabeth George in the beginning. Her novels became darker and more difficult to get through. She used to be an auto-buy but I’m done. I prefer Deborah Crombie. She writes beautifully and her books are very readable!

  4. leslie says:

    I am on board your bandwagon!!!

    I loved “Careless in Red”…..to me it was George’s best book….after that I HATED where she went with Lynley. I had put “Just One Evil Act” on hold at my library and was first on the holds list. When I went to pick it up I read the flyleaf and chucked into the return bin. I’m done and feels like George is done too. She seems to loathe Lynley and Havers, at least it feels that way to me.

    Try Deborah Crombie’s Duncan Kincaid series.

    I heard that she killed off Helen because she hated the casting and portrayal of the TV series Helen. Don’t know if it’s true, but it sounds plausible.

  5. Admin AAR says:

    @Dabney – your husband’s reaction sure isn’t encouraging.

    @ Leslie and Karen – I’ve actually read the first few of the Crombie books, and I do recall liking them. And if that’s the reason she killed off Helen…well, that’s a stupid reason.

    • LinnieGayl says:

      I’d third the Crombie series. I read the first few and then forgot about them for years. Now I read each one as it comes out and they’re wonderful. I truly love how she’s developed the characters over the series.

      And Elizabeth George? No way! Just can’t continue with her.

  6. Kathy says:

    I gave up on Ms George after she killed off Lady Helen (and Karen Slaughter after she killed off Jeffrey Tolliver). Neither death was reasonable and seemed to be put in for shock value. I’d stick with Julia Quinn!

  7. Suzanne Noll says:

    I completely agree with you! Loved Elizabeth George for years and was thrilled to meet her at our local library, where she surrounded by her adoring writing students. However, she lost me (and many others) when she killed off Helen and baby. An author of a beloved series is not obligated to her loyal readers to maintain a static world for her characters, but it is a risk to terminate integral members of the series ensemble. I stopped reading the series long ago, but am sorry to hear about Barbara. She was an admirable and endearing character.

  8. I stopped reading George because of Helen’s death. I was behind, picked up What Came Before He Shot Her off the new book display, read that Helen was dead and never picked up another.

    I’m sorry to hear about Barbara. I always liked Barbara.

  9. DJ says:

    People always assume I read romances for the sex scenes, but it’s really for the happy endings. I live in the real world, I don’t always want to read books that are steeped in it too.

  10. Susan/DC says:

    I loved some of Elizabeth George’s mysteries. They worked as both puzzles to be solved and as character studies, and her writing was also above par. But I vowed to never buy another of her books after she killed Helen. George’s writing was so eloquent as she described Lynley’s sorrow when faced with the decision of what to do about the unborn baby, and I was nearly in tears when she described his thoughts as he dressed for the funeral. But enough is enough, and while I realize that murder mysteries revolve around a tragic death, I grew tired of watching every single character suffer. Suffering is part of life but so is joy, and whenever one of her characters got too close to happiness George seemed to take particular pleasure in snatching it away. My mystery-buying dollars now go to Imogen Robertson, Frank Tallis, or S.G. Maclean.

  11. Joane says:

    I Love your short paragraph about what you like about romance novels. If I ever write a blog, I’d put it as the perfect reason to read this genre!

    Apart from that, I cannot solve your problem, E. George is not a writer I’ve read. Knowing me, I’d keep on reading, even if it worsens, just to be sure that there is nothing more in that author for me. I’d drink that cup to the dregs, so to speak.

    But it depends, of course, if you are one of those N/F readers. I’m not.

  12. Kaye says:

    OK – I feel obliged to come out of lurking mode to chime in here to say I did finish “Just One Evil Act” In fact I listened to it – all 24 discs – and love Davina Porters narration (although her Italian accent is awful). I have a long commute and burn up my library card with audio books. I think it was Ms. Porter that got me through the book.

    I think I have read or listened to all of her Lynley books except for “What Happened Before he Shot Her”. I just didn’t care for whatever set of circumstances that took out Helen and child.

    At best, Elizabeth George needs a very firm editor. I think the more successful an author is, the more the publishers leave them alone. This was even more evident while listening to too many descriptive passages. Even though she can write beautifully, that got old fast.

    As for the character arcs, this was mostly Barbara’s story, and she ends up OK with the help of someone surprising (no spoilers here!). OK being relative, she has lost the loves of her life, but still has her job – and she really is just the job.

    Lynley’s moral dilemma regarding how much to back up Barbara, his ongoing relationship with the veterinarian (better than the drunken boss lady) is pretty much secondary.

    I don’t know if it was just too long a story, and I know and expect her books to be long and in depth. Or if the story itself just didn’t grab me in the ways others did. Or if the mystery resolution, about who killed Angelina, I figured out early.

    It is not my last Elizabeth George book, but it may be my next to last.

    • Blythe says:

      Hmmm…Barbara keeps her job? Maybe I’ll at least finish it since I’m at least halfway done. Apparently not done enough to know Angelina was murdered, though.

      But you brought up something else that is bugging the hell out of me. The Italian. I don’t speak Italian, and her constant use of it (and then using the context around it to assure that we all GET it) is annoying.

  13. Elaine C. says:

    I loved Elizabeth George’s books from the beginning, but got bogged down in the personal misery of the characters. I bought the last four in hardback, but didn’t read them. Since I retired I have read mostly romances. I love happy endings! I disliked the casting of Lady Helen on television, too, but that’s a crappy reason for terminating the character. In the early books, Helen was elegant, bright, and almost ethereal. On TV, she was listless and boring. :-(
    I tell my family that I read romances because no matter what else is going on in the story(war, injuries, emotional trauma, torture, etc.), the main characters reach their HEA. I love that! :-)
    Blythe,
    My freshman English class at Univ. of Detroit in 1963 was taught by Joyce Carol Oats. It was her first teaching class. Her first book, “By the North Gate”, was published that year. It was my first hardcover book purchase(other than textbooks) and she autographed it for me. It was a collection of short stories. I kept track of her and read copies of some of her books from the library, but I just couldn’t deal with the pain her characters faced in their lives. It would be another thirty-six years before I read a romance other than “Pride and Prejudice”, but I finally found what was right for me: the HEA. :-)

  14. Elaine Brown says:

    I’ve read nearly all her books. I think she’s nearly made the transition from mystery/crime to literature. All the Italian in the latest one got a bit much.I think it was just too long as well. And I too thought the characters’ actions didn’t always ring true.
    I also love Deborah Crombie. And the Inspector Banks books by Peter Robinson.

  15. Jill Q. says:

    Glad to hear I’m not the only one who’s left off with Elizabeth George. I second the idea that George needs a better and firmer editor.

    I’d drifted away before Helen’s death and I meant to drift back, but then I heard she’d killed Helen and I was done. I think of it as the “soap opera problem.” Not to diss soap operas b/c a lot of the people love them and I don’t judge, but the way soap operas keep people interested is by coming up with plot twists so the characters are always miserable.

    Those type of stories just don’t work for me in any genre. I stopped watching the British series “Being Human” b/c I realized the writers were going to just keep torturing the characters.

    I also third or fourth or fifth (!) the recommendation of the Duncan Kincaid series. Good audio books too.

  16. Dagmar says:

    Same here – I stopped reading Elizabeth George when she killed off Helen. I found her books less and less enjoyable even before that book. I understand that life can be difficult, but must everyone in her books be miserable? Her books seemed dreary and depressing and could someone please edit her books?

    I also love the Deborah Crombie series. Love the characters and enjoy the mystery.

  17. LeeF says:

    Wow- I have never read anything by Elizabeth George and, from reading these posts, I find I am mad that Helen was killed off! :-)

  18. Elle says:

    Yup. Stopped cold when Helen and baby died. Just couldn’t. Couldn’t!

  19. Susan says:

    Okay, maybe i’m a little blood thirsty but I didn’t mind Helen’s demise and I loved “After he Shot Her”. In a romance I wouldn’t care for it but with a mystery series anything goes.

  20. carol irvin says:

    i’ve reviewed this book over at amazon and gave it four stars. i have read all of the lynley & havers books except for the one which really isn’t one, all about the boy who murdered Helen. i think what George ran into here is that it is hard to write a crime series about a happily married couple. this is why you don’t see her st. james couple used as often. in order for a crime series to succeed, it generally has to be dark, showcasing the underside of society and even its detectives and police. american crime fiction has always been extremely dark. the term NOIR was coined for it. the hot foreign byproduct nowadays, Scandinavian Noir, with the Millenium trilogy being the gold standard for that subgenre.

    i didn’t mind her killing off Helen but i would have preferred if she had just had her die in a car or plane crash and not be pregnant. i think she went overboard on killing her off. i think the CARELESS IN RED was the best recovery of her momentum thus far.

    in this book she took a big risk by making Havers the lead. Havers is a very different character from virtually all other crime fiction. she is female but lower middle class, unattractive, overweight, stubborn and unfeminine. we manage to like her somewhat but as lynley’s sidekick. it is unlikely havers will ever find a man given these qualities and the professor certainly had beauty as his number one priority given the qualities of his wife and mistress. but it is as close as havers is likely to get to having a family.

    it takes guts to be an author of a crime novel who takes these risks and she could only do so because of her prior success. now that the author is an older woman, she also seems to have things she wants to say while she can about women in our time period, where we find ourselves. she doesn’t have much left to say about men. lynley will eventually find another woman because he needs an heir. that is still drilled into him from birth and i think he will do it. he just might pick someone vastly inappropriate for the role as far as his peers are concerned, like the roller derby vet.

    havers acted from the heart. she was in love with this professor and his daughter. all her actions flowed from this. i don’t condone her actions but i understand them. the police have kept her because she is one of their best detectives while not being corrupt.

    i did have one problem with the book and that was the family law George used. it was off. this is my review with amazon which cover this legal problem:

    “for those of you reading this series of books, you already know that some feature one recurring character over another as the lead for that particular book. for this one, george has clearly chosen Barbara Havers as her lead with Lynley in second position. Lynley is well represented in the book but it is Havers’ passionate involvement in the mess of her neighbors’ lives which fuels the entire story. we have a brief appearance of the St. James’s but that is all. they also have featured as leads in earlier books. because Havers is in the lead position, some readers will disappointed because they read the books mainly for Lynley. i will admit that i could have used more of Lynley in this book and a bit less of Havers. Her overwrought emotions over her neighbors after awhile becomes almost too much. but this is a book about passions which act and react without reason so her feelings are no more out of control than those doing wrong at the heart of the book.

    the biggest plus is that most of the action takes place in Tuscany in Italy. there we encounter the Italian police and legal system which are bewildering compared to the UK and American systems. The police and the prosecutors are much more separate in the UK and USA than they are in Italy. I found this part of the story fascinating. The policeman, Salvatore, and the prosecutor-magistrate, both try to run the case. They both interrogate suspects at cross purposes. But this is the Italian system and it works for the Italians. both lynley and havers find it endlessly bewildering and frustrating though in their separate journeys there. But Salvatore is a great addition as a character plus he is a great cop.

    The essential case at issue involves Azar, the professor neighbor of Havers, and his nine year old daughter. This book opens right where the last left off. The biological mother kidnaps the nine year old, leaving no trace of where she’s taken her. BUT in this book we move from that kidnapping to the mother showing up on the father’s doorstep not long thereafter with her new boyfriend claiming that someone else has kidnapped the child. she thinks it is the biological father. there is no ransom demand so that removes that aspect of the case. who is the kidnapper? where is the child? is the child alive?

    the below may be a SPOILER for some readers although it does not give away the ending.

    I’d like to take issue with one bit of off research in this novel. the law in most western highly industrialized countries, and most especially the UK and USA, have increasingly focused on the rights of biological parents in their children. George states in early parts of the novel that the biological father has no rights because the mother did not put him on the birth certificate. that does not help, of course. but if he can move this matter into court, prove by dna that he is the father, and also show that the child has been living with him for a long time while the mother absconded to conduct numerous affairs, his rights will not be lightly swept aside in favor of hers. i do not think she is a slam dunk as preferred parent when she does no work of any sort and mainly occupies herself with carrying on simultaneous affairs with three different men, a dancer, a professor and and a vineyard owner. simultaneous affairs has been a lifelong choice of hers because she likes danger and living on the edge. this description of a parent strikes terror into any domestic court or family services worker. the father by contrast is a university professor and devotes all his time to the child. even though he remains married to someone else, he hasn’t seen her in years and that does not seem germane to the best interests of this child, the legal test before the court. the author seems nevertheless seems rooted in domestic law of decades ago when preferences were given to the mother and the father was shunted aside except in cases of extreme neglect. this is 2013 not the 1950s-1970s.”

    end of review carol irvin

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