Well, this one didn’t work out as planned. Several people whose taste I respect recommended Elizabeth George to me, so I was happy to pick up the first installment of her Inspector Lynley series, A Great Deliverance. There are lots and lots of books in this series, and I thought it would be fun to have a series to read that I could turn to whenever the mood struck. I’m not in the habit of reading through a series of mystery novels in an orderly way, and I thought it would be fun to try.
So what am I missing? I’m willing to admit in other circumstances I may have liked this book more, but as it is, I just never got caught up in the story. Those of you in the know, does she get better as she goes along?
The main problem is that I just never really “bought” the characters. I didn’t feel as though I was given enough information to make them come alive. Inspector Lynley struck me as annoyingly perfect. (But really, “annoying” is a word I’ve been using a lot lately, so perhaps I’m not being fair, and I can see that in another mood I might not mind unrealistic perfection at all.) He’s the 8th Earl of Asherton, and not only is he an earl, but he’s smart and charming and handsome and understanding and a great detective, etc., etc. He has some experience of suffering, but rather than making me pity him, this makes him seem even worse — he seems even more annoyingly perfect because his less-than-perfect life means he’s capable of compassion and a deeper understanding of other people. I think if I’d had a chance to get to know him better, his charm might have worked on me, but the novel’s introduction to him seemed too rushed, so I was left feeling distanced and unimpressed.
Given all of this, I might have been drawn to the other main character, Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, who resents Lynley’s perfections with a passion. She comes from a troubled family and a difficult past, and she is solidly working class. She is also very, very angry at the world, an anger she takes out on nearly everybody, but especially on Lynley. When she is assigned to work with him on a case, she is certain disaster is about to happen.
But I wasn’t particularly taken with Barbara either. Again, I didn’t have enough information about her to be able to care all that much about her pain. Instead, her self-sabotaging behavior just got irritating and her anger seemed excessive. Her psychological problems seemed overly obvious and contrived.
The story seemed fine, but the truth is, I never care all that much about the story; I look, instead, for some interesting people and ideas to think about. I’ll admit, things did start to get interesting right at the very end with the resolution of the mystery, but that’s much too late. The interesting ending makes me wonder if her later books take off in good directions — it seems there’s some potential there — but I’m not sure I want to take the time to find out.
I wonder if this is a matter of a new writer not having everything figured out yet, or perhaps the problem of getting a series underway — surely, if you envision a series based on your characters, it’s not easy to write a book that is complete on its own but also paves the way for future books.
Oh, well — if Elizabeth George isn’t for me, that’s okay! There are surely other mystery series that I will find more satisfying.
15 responses to “Elizabeth George’s A Great Deliverance”
I’ve not read Elizabeth George so I can’t offer any insight. Too bad it didn’t really click with you though. It’s always a disappointment when you have high expectations about something and then it doesn’t quite work out.
I’ve not read Elizabeth George either, but it sounds similar to what I’ve been experiencing lately with other mystery series. The characters are for various reasons, difficult to bond with.
I saw an episode of the BBC series with Inspector Lynley and it was well-written, but you almost always have to have read at least some of the books first to understand all the background that has been edited from the TV versions.
Anne Perry does an excellent job with her characters, if you like Victorian mysteries, and I also love Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple series, set in the 1920s.
I’ve tried Elizabeth George twice. The first time (and I cannot remember the book’s title) I never finished it. The second time, it was a book called ‘For The Sake of Elena’ which I really enjoyed. But I’ve never been pulled back to reading her again. Perhaps she is a bit uneven in quality? Oh well, at least that’s one more author off the TBR pile – sometimes it’s good to beat the numbers down! 🙂
It’s too bad you didn’t click with Elizabeth George, but that happens sometimes and as you say there are loads of other mystery authors out there to discover. She was one of the first mystery writers that I started reading and I just fell in with the series and she hooked me. I started reading these a good eight or ten years ago and I read them in order, so it’s been a while–I’m not sure I could offer any additional insight into the characters–a first look probably gave you a taste as to whether you like them or not. Obviously she does expand on them and their personalities/histories as you go. I actually like her earlier books a bit more than the later ones as they get very long and perhaps more complicated than a standard mystery should be–lots of complex storylines and long in terms of pages. I still have her newest to read. Perhaps I’ll go back and start from the beginning someday and see how I feel. Still, it’s nice to give a new author a try and now you won’t need to worry about reading the rest! 🙂
I did like this story but I do agree with you, the inspector was a bit too perfect wasn’t he? I did enjoy it a lot and continued to the second book. I thought the Havers character was a bit more tempered in the next one and I liked her more.
But, I’d say if the characters just didn’t click for you then I’d just move on to another series. There are tons anyway 🙂
Funny, I read a couple of George’s later novels and really liked them (I think as time goes on, she develops Havers into a better character). However, then I went back and read _A Great Deliverance_, wasn’t much impressed, and have never been inspired to try her again. Maybe this is one of the few times when I could make the argument that it’s best not to begin at the beginning of the series (something I usually try to do when I can).
I watch the mysteries on PBS every once in awhile, but I have yet to read the books. Now, I guess I won’t. Thanks, Dorothy!
I’ve always thought it must be very difficult to create and then sustain a mystery series, mostly because I don’t think I could do it. I’d want to start something new! That said, I’ve never thought about how the first book in a series, because it introduces new characters but does not necessarily flesh them out yet, can suffer from the problems you identify in your post.
I liked these books, by the way, partly because I like reading about class issues, and I found Havers an interesting and complex character. I think she becomes increasingly important and interesting as the books go on, but maybe not so much in the beginning.
I am sorry, though, about the apparent demise of the stand-alone mystery. I love PD James’s early work, and think she was at her best when she created one interesting world after another for her murders to take place in. I do like the mystery series she’s writing now, the one with Dagliesh (will he ever get married? I have to finish the Private Patient to find out, I hear) but I sort of wish she had kept on with the stand-alones.
Too bad it disappointed. Ah well, maybe she gets better, or maybe it’s better just to find another mystery series you do get on with. I have trouble with series for that reason, too–they can be so uneven. If you find a good mystery series, let me know!
Too bad! I read a lot of E G mysteries, and it’s true that they are a bit uneven. My favorite would be For the Sake of Elena. I also was slightly annoyed by Lynley at the beginning of the series, but it does get better after. I enjoy the complexity of her novels and it’s always really clever how she pieces every bit of the plot together. I read her writing advice book as well and it was quite inspiring for mystery writing.
I love George’s books — she’s one of my favourite writers — and yet I can identify with what you are saying about the main characters. I didn’t read her books in order, so I didn’t start with this one (in all probability). I would say it’s worth it to give her another chance!
I find it interesting that two other commenters said they really enjoyed For the Sake of Elena; I had trouble believing the storyline for that one, so it’s definitely not one of my favourites!
I’m a bit late on this one, but I agree with everything you said about Elizabeth George. I actually read several of her mysteries before giving up. I finally realized that all I wanted to say to all the characters was “Get over yourself!” Which didn’t seem quite right.
It’s hard to get mysteries right, in my opinion.
I’ve dabbled in this series here and there, and A Great Deliverance is actually the third or fourth that I’ve read. I’m really glad it wasn’t the first – I don’t think I would have come back to the series. Havers’ self-sabotage really got to me. I do find the others in the series better, and I love the BBC series! But I also think George is just not quite for me.
I enjoyed your review, so I’ve linked to it here.
Although A Great Deliverance is said to be the 1st. book
(backed up by publication dates etc.)in the series, it is actually a continuation of A Suitable Vengeance where most of the characters and their initial romantic entanglements are introduced. Havers is only a minor character not Lynley’s partner at all. This has always puzzled me as I accidentally read this book first which made it much easier to follow the development of characters chronologically. I recommend to anyone considering the series to read “vengeance” first.
I suspect that in part it’s because you started reading in the middle of her series rather than from the beginning. I expect it’s partly a style thing because if she had to write a quick synopsis of the main characters with each consecutive book it would be a bit boring for her followers.
You might like to try Ruth Rendell, my favorite or PD James.