George, Elizabeth 1949–
George, Elizabeth 1949–
(Susan Elizabeth George)
Born February 26, 1949, in Warren, OH; daughter of Robert Edwin (a conveyor salesman) and Anne (a registered nurse) George; married Ira Jay Toibin (a business manager), May 28, 1971 (divorced, November, 1995); married Tom McCabe (a retired firefighter). Education: Foothill Community College, A.A., 1969; University of California, Riverside, B.A., 1970; California State University, Fullerton, M.S., 1979; attended the University of California Berkeley. Politics: Democratic. Religion: "Recovering from Catholicism." Hobbies and other interests: Reading, theater, movies, skiing, photography, gardening.
Writer, novelist, and educator. Mater Dei High School, Santa Ana, CA, teacher of English, 1974-75; El Toro High School, El Toro, CA, teacher of English, 1975-87; Coastline Community College, Costa Mesa, CA, teacher of creative Writing, beginning 1988; Irvine Valley College, Irvine, CA, teacher of creative writing, 1989; University of California, Irvine, teacher of creative writing, 1990. Teacher of intensive writing seminars for the University of Oklahoma and Book Passage, Corte Madera, CA; visiting professor, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, and Exeter College, Oxford University, Oxford, England; Maui Writer's Retreat, creative writing instructor.
Award for teacher of the year, Orange County Department of Education, 1981; Anthony and Agatha awards for best first novel, both 1989, Le Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere, 1990, and Edgar and Macavity Award nominations, all for A Great Deliverance; MIMI award (Germany), for Well-Schooled in Murder. Recipient of honorary degree from California State University, Fullerton.
A Great Deliverance, Bantam (New York, NY), 1988.
Payment in Blood, Bantam (New York, NY), 1989.
Well-Schooled in Murder, Bantam (New York, NY), 1990.
A Suitable Vengeance, Bantam (New York, NY), 1991.
For the Sake of Elena, Bantam (New York, NY), 1992.
Missing Joseph, Bantam (New York, NY), 1993.
Playing for the Ashes, Bantam (New York, NY), 1994.
In the Presence of the Enemy, Bantam (New York, NY), 1996.
Deception on His Mind, Bantam (New York, NY), 1997.
The Evidence Exposed (short stories), Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1999.
In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner, Bantam (New York, NY), 1999.
A Traitor to Memory, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Remember, I'll Always Love You, ASAP Publishing (Mission Viejo, CA), 2001.
I, Richard: Stories of Suspense, Bantam (New York, NY), 2002.
(Editor) Crime from the Mind of a Woman, Coronet (London, England), 2002, published as A Moment on the Edge: 100 Years of Crime Stories by Women, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.
A Place of Hiding, Bantam (New York, NY), 2003.
Write Away: One Novelist's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.
With No One as Witness, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.
What Came before He Shot Her, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to anthologies, including Sisters in Crime, Volume 2, Berkley Books (New York, NY), 1990; Women on the Case, Bantam (New York, NY), 1996; and Murder and Obsession, Random House (New York, NY), 1999.
A collection of George's manuscripts is housed at the Mugar Memorial Library, Boston University.
Twelve of George's Inspector Lynley novels have been adapted by the BBC and WGBH Boston and aired on PBS's Mystery! Series, including A Great Deliverance, 2001; Well-Schooled in Murder, 2002; Payment in Blood, 2002; For the Sake of Elena, 2002; Missing Joseph, 2002; Playing for the Ashes, 2003; In the Presence of the Enemy, 2003; A Suitable Vengeance, 2003; Deception on His Mind, 2003; In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner, 2004; A Traitor to Memory, 2004; A Cry for Justice, 2004; and If Wishes Were Horses, 2004. The character of Inspector Lynley has also appeared in other episodes of the PBS Mystery series not based on George's novels.
American writer Elizabeth George has won wide acclaim with her popular crime novels featuring a team of Scotland Yard sleuths. The author's depiction of British life is so accurate that even many of her readers in Great Britain have assumed that she is British. In fact, she was born in Ohio and raised in California. Her fascination with the classic British mystery genre led her to try her own hand at it. Her first book, A Great Deliverance, featured an aristocratic inspector, Thomas Lynley; his aggressive, working-class assistant, Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers; and Lynley's best friend, independent forensic pathologist Simon St. James, who team together to investigate the beheading of a wealthy family's patriarch. In a Publishers Weekly article by Lisa See, George was quoted as saying that A Great Deliverance "wasn't a good book…. It was a clunky, old-fashioned, Agatha Christie-style mystery where St. James took everyone into the library and explained the crime. But it was a finished book." A Great Deliverance also won the prestigious Anthony and Agatha awards.
George followed A Great Deliverance with Payment in Blood, in which Lynley and Havers are sent to a Glasgow estate to investigate the death of a playwright pierced through the neck with a lengthy dagger. Lynley and Havers discover that the murderer must have passed through a neighboring room, one occupied on that fateful evening by an aristocratic woman with whom Lynley is in love. With Lynley distracted by romance, Havers assumes responsibility for their inquiry, which points to yet another aristocrat, an aging stage director of great prominence. Carolyn Banks, in her review of Payment in Blood in the Washington Post, noted the novel's "wonderfully drawn tensions and bonds between the characters," and she commended George for her skilled manipulation of crime-story conventions such as "the isolated old house [and] the tangled histories of the players."
In George's next mystery, Well-Schooled in Murder, Lynley and Havers must investigate the murder of a young boy found nude at a churchyard near his prestigious public school. The duo's probe leads to the uncovering of various criminal and scandalous activities, including blackmail, sadism, and suicide. Washington Post Book World contributor Jean M. White called Well-Schooled in Murder "a bewitching book, exasperatingly clever, and with a plot that must be peeled layer by layer like an onion." Marilyn Stasio, in her assessment of crime fiction for the New York Times Book Review, noted the "sensationalistic plot" of Well-Schooled in Murder and proclaimed George "a gifted storyteller."
In A Suitable Vengeance, George casts protagonist Lynley into a setting of domestic conflict. He has arrived at his mother's home in Cornwall to introduce his fiancée to her. Accompanying the couple are some of Lynley's friends, including Simon St. James and his sister, Sidney St. James. Shortly into the novel, Sidney engages in a surprisingly violent clash with her lover, Justin. Lynley's brother, a drug addict, soon arrives to further disturb matters. Then a newspaper editor is found dead. Lynley, while trying to resolve a long estrangement from his mother, must begin an investigation into the death. That inquiry leads to the uncovering of further drug use and the particularly malicious activities of a London woman. Margaret Cannon, writing in the Toronto Globe and Mail, deemed A Suitable Vengeance "a superior story," and described George as "an elegant craftswoman." Another enthusiast, Charles Champlin, wrote in the Los Angeles Times Book Review that with A Suitable Vengeance George gives readers a "sumptuous, all-out reading experience."
George continues to develop her characters with each new book. Her skill in plotting also becomes more finely honed with each successive title, according to numerous reviewers. Discussing For the Sake of Elena, the author's fifth book in another Los Angeles Time Book Review piece, Champlin noted that "like P.D. James, whom she comes as close to resembling as anyone now writing, [George] concocts an intricate timetable plot with a guess-again finale." He further noted, however, that "her larger interests are in character delineation, relationships closely observed, and social issues exposed…. The new book sustains the high standard Elizabeth George has set for herself." Belles Lettres reviewer Jane Bakerman called For the Sake of Elena "suspenseful, literate but readily accessible to a wide range of readers, thoughtful and thought provoking … an elegant novel."
Playing for the Ashes, about the mysterious death of a star cricket player, received praise from Emily Melton in Booklist: "George is a gifted writer who spins rich, colorful, mesmerizing, multifaceted stories that combine an absorbing mystery with provocative insights into her characters' innermost thoughts and emotions…. Readers will be astounded by the ease with which she weaves complex relationships and provocative moral, emotional, and ethical questions into the compelling plot. Another tour de force from one of today's best storytellers."
"Elizabeth George is arguably the finest writer working in the mystery genre today," wrote Margo Kaufman in a Los Angeles Times Book Review assessment of In the Presence of the Enemy, George's eighth novel. The plot concerns the kidnapping of the illegitimate daughter of a conservative politician. Havers ends up brutally beaten in her attempts to save the child. The story is lengthy, and James Hynes expressed in the Washington Post that In the Presence of the Enemy "is the longest, slowest, dullest book" he had ever read. Yet Jessica Cleerdin, a contributor to the Star-Ledger, found it an "interesting" plot, one greatly enhanced by the author's "realistic" style. Cleerdin continued: "Her crisp, precise writing mirrors that of news articles, adding a sense of urgency as the plot unfolds."
Barbara Havers takes center stage in the next installment of the series, Deception on His Mind. Off-duty while recovering from injuries incurred in the previous book, Havers tags along when her Pakistani neighbors head to a seaside town to try to settle some racial tensions there. Havers soon becomes involved in investigating the murder of a Pakistani in the town. In this story, the author "goes beyond her usual sensitive portrayal of the players, examining the nature of a different culture, how that dovetails with a murder investigation, and the role racism plays in the operations," explained Carol Kreck of the Denver Post. Lynley, St. James, and the other regular characters are present only in the first eleven pages of the book, and Havers "does very well by herself," according to Kreck. Typically, Havers has much to endure, including disciplinary action and a possible demotion for her independent actions in the case.
George continued her trend toward more intricate plotting with In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner, a story involving murder and sexual perversion among Britain's upper class. The investigation is complicated by lingering anger and mistrust between Lynley and Havers, due to events that took place in the previous novel. Library Journal reviewer Francine Fialkoff commented that George "may have gone overboard with her penchant for complex plotting," and further noted that "Lynley's moral agonies are becoming tedious." Other reviewers found In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner yet another fine achievement from George. Stephanie Zvirin, writing in Booklist, stated that "George delivers infinitely more than the requisite deception and murder," and assured that the book is "masterfully plotted, thoughtful, and bursting with clever complications." A Publishers Weekly reviewer also praised George for combining a taut mystery with fine character development, and doing so "with an engaging mix of subtlety and bravado. The multifaceted surprise ending to the taut, suspenseful plot is the juiciest plum in this can't-put-down novel."
A Traitor to Memory is a "sprawling epic" that takes in "classical music, cybersex, and vehicular homicide," according to a Publishers Weekly writer. George again demonstrated her willingness to be innovative in this novel, which uses multiple viewpoints to tell the story. A central figure is a young man who has spent most of his life performing as a prodigy of the violin. Suddenly he finds himself unable to play a note. The key to his musical paralysis leads through several decades and murders. Booklist reviewer Connie Fletcher commented that despite its length of more than seven hundred pages, A Traitor to Memory manages to "fairly zip along, keeping the reader on the knife's edge of suspense, thanks to George's skill." Fletcher rated the book "first rate suspense with a stunner of an ending." Library Journal writer Jane la Plante found the introspection of the violinist ultimately "tedious and creepy," but the Publishers Weekly reviewer praised the book as "ambitious" and called the author's narrative "consistently inventive."
In A Place of Hiding, Inspector Lynley steps aside briefly to let series costars Simon St. James and his wife Deborah take the spotlight. An unexpected visit from Cherokee River, the brother of Deborah's American friend and roommate China River, reveals that China has been arrested for murder. She is being held on the island of Guernsey, charged with murdering wealthy Guy Brouard, an influential philanthropist. Brouard and his wife Ruth have painful connections to the Holocaust. They were working with a World War II hero who lived on the island to put together a war museum to honor those who were victimized by the Nazis during the island's occupation. Simon and Deborah accompany Cherokee to Guernsey to try to exonerate China and uncover the identity of the real murderer. Unexpected twists and shocking discoveries await the protagonists as the story darkly unspools. Entertainment Weekly reviewer Tina Jordan concluded: "This is mystery writing at its most complex and intelligent."
With No One as Witness concerns the brutal, ritualistic death of a teenage boy which is linked to three other similar deaths. Because all of the victims were black males, and because connections to a serial killer were made very late in the investigation, Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner Sir David Hillier fears that there will be accusations of racism leveled at the department. To combat this image, Hillier promotes black officer Winston Nkata to sergeant and involves him prominently in public meetings and press briefings. Lynley, Nkata, and constable Barbara Havers eventually identify the victims and link them to Colossus, a group for troubled youths run by a staff with questionable backgrounds. Further links are found between the young men and a magic shop with ties to a group called MABIL, which stands for Men and Boys in Love, and which supports sexual encounters between adult males and boys. Before the story's end, the director of Colossus will have a close encounter with the killer, and Lynley will experience a loss that will profoundly change his life forever. "George deftly depicts the palaver and predicaments of middle-and working-class Brits in this dark, chilling tale of desperation and revenge," commented Booklist reviewer Alison Block.
What Came before He Shot Her proceeds from the devastating events of With No One as Witness, chronicling the events and characters that led to Lynley's tremendous loss. Twelve-year-old Joel, his teenage sister Ness, and brother Toby Campbell are three mixed-race siblings suffering through a difficult upbringing after their father is murdered and their mother institutionalized. Their Aunt Kendra takes them in, and although she means well, she does not have the means to raise three children. Ness and Joel fight to adjust and survive in their dangerous new surroundings in North Kensington, while Joel helps protect younger, developmentally challenged brother Toby. Despite his good intentions and earnest attempts to help, Joel's decisions are usually followed by tragedy. Ness's involvement with a vicious, jealous drug dealer endangers Ness and the family. After run-ins with the law, Ness ends up in jail. "The bad luck stretches all the way to Belgravia, where Inspector Thomas Lynley's wife Helen meets Joel and a handgun on her doorstep," reported a Kirkus Reviews critic. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the novel "an outstanding and explosive addition to a popular series." The story demonstrates George "at the top of her form," commented Jane la Plante in the Library Journal. "This is a riveting installment in a superb series—far more than just plain good," commented Zvirin in another Booklist review.
In her long literary career, George has also turned her hand to editing. Her A Moment on the Edge: 100 Years of Crime Stories by Women assembles twenty-six tales spanning more than eight decades and representing a variety of mystery genre types, including locked-room mysteries, psychological studies, detective tales, and white-collar crime stories. Authors represented include mystery stalwarts Ngaio Marsh, Ruth Rendell, Minette Walters, and Dorothy Sayers, along with other authors not strictly associated with the mystery genre, such as Joyce Carol Oates and Nadine Gordimer. George includes concise introductory notes on each author, and pens a "lively, informative introduction" to the entire collection, noted Jane la Plante in the Library Journal. The book is, "from start to finish, a first-rate anthology," Stephanie Zvirin concluded in a Booklist review.
A teacher as well as an author, George offers sage lessons to beginning writers in Write Away: One Novelist's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life. In the book, George's "pedantry is of the pleasant variety, meant not to bury potential writers but to encourage them," observed Bethanne Kelly Patrick on Bookreporter.com. Taking examples from her own books as well as from major literary works, George describes in detail the conceptual and creative process she uses to write the popular Lynley novels and her other books. She explains how she determines her characters' traits in a "character map" before she even starts on her first draft. She emphasizes the value of discipline for writers and the irreplaceable practice of simply getting words down on paper or screen. She encourages writers to enjoy the entire process of creating, rather than focusing on what comes after the "having written," when the book or story is completed. She also realistically assesses the odds against new writers, and endorses finding pleasure and fulfillment in the writing, whether or not it will eventually result in publication. Throughout the book, George "may have been describing what works for her, but her energy and excitement made me want to discover what works best for me," Patrick commented.
George remarked on her work in the St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers: "My novels tend to harken back to the Golden Age of the detective story in that they attempt to reflect the glamour of Dorothy L. Sayers's type of writing rather than the grim reality of present day dissections of murder. Nonetheless, the issues they revolve around are very much part of contemporary life." In that same book, Jane S. Bakerman summarized that George's popularity results from her skillful use of "an intriguing range of continuing characters who are interesting individually as well as in their interactions with one another, gripping plots, welldrawn descriptive passages, and plenty of gore. The crimes depicted in these novels are horrific not only in physical detail but also in their psychological impact upon the cast of characters—and upon the readers. Strongly sexual undercurrents color and inform all these factors. With sharp realism but without exploitation, then, George notes and capitalizes upon the human fascination with sex and violence. Crime writers often focus on these subjects, of course, but not many display the control George commands."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Atlantic Monthly, November, 2006, review of What Came before He Shot Her, p. 125.
Belles Lettres, fall, 1992, Jane Bakerman, review of For the Sake of Elena, p. 28.
Booklist, May 15, 1994, Emily Melton, review of Playing for the Ashes, p. 1645; July, 1999, Stephanie Zvirin, review of In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner, p. 1893; December 15, 1999, review of In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner (audio version), p. 798; May 1, 2000, Karen Harris, review of In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner (audio version), pp. 1626-1627; May 1, 2001, Connie Fletcher, review of A Traitor to Memory, p. 1632; May 15, 2004, Stephanie Zvirin, review of A Moment on the Edge: 100 Years of Crime Stories by Women, p. 1601; February 1, 2005, Stephanie Zvirin, review of With No One as Witness, p. 917; August 1, 2006, Allison Block, review of What Came before He Shot Her, p. 8.
Books, summer, 1998, review of Deception on His Mind, p. R3.
Christian Science Monitor, March 27, 1997, review of In the Presence of the Enemy, p. B2; July 31, 1997, Michele Ross, review of Deception on His Mind, p. B2, Robin Whitten, review of In the Presence of the Enemy, p. B4.
Clues: A Journal of Detection, fall-winter, 2000, Carl D. Malmgren, "Truth, Justice, the American Way: Martha Grimes and Elizabeth George," p. 47.
Denver Post, July 13, 1997, Carol Kreck, review of Deception on His Mind, p. E6.
Entertainment Weekly, December 12, 1997, Tom De Haven, review of In the Presence of the Enemy, p. 77; December 24, 1999, review of In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner, p. 144; August 10, 2001, Mark Harris, "Lady Thrillers: Four Popular Women of Mystery Introduce New Chapters in the Lives of Their Hard-boiled Heroines"; August 8, 2003, Tina Jordan, review of A Place of Hiding, p. 78; March 18, 2005, Mark Harris, review of With No One as Witness, p. 74; October 20, 2006, Tina Jordan, review of What Came before He Shot Her, p. 87.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), August 4, 1990; September 25, 1999; review of In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner, p. D15.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2005, review of With No One as Witness, p. 151; August 1, 2006, review of What Came before He Shot Her, p. 755.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, August 6, 1997, Lynn Carey, "Elizabeth George Reveals Why Britain's the Setting for Her Best-Selling Mysteries," p. 806.
Library Journal, July, 1999, Francine Fialkoff, review of In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner, p. 141; June 1, 2001, Jane la Plante, review of A Traitor to Memory, p. 214; February 1, 2004, Joyce Kessel, audiobook review of A Place of Hiding, p. 143; August, 2004, Jane la Plante, review of A Moment on the Edge, p. 61; March 15, 2005, Jane la Plante, review of With No One as Witness, p. 78; April 15, 2006, Douglas C. Lord, review of With No One as Witness, p. 123; September 1, 2006, Jane la Plante, review of What Came before He Shot Her, p. 136.
Los Angeles Times, June 9, 1996, Dennis McLellen, "Murder She Writes," p. E1.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 13, 1989, Charles Champlin, "Bloody Sunday," review of Payment in Blood, p. 8; July 12, 1992, Charles Champlin, review of For the Sake of Elena, p. 8; May 12, 1996, Margo Kaufman, review of In the Presence of the Enemy, p. 11; October 31, 1999, review of In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner, p. 11.
New York Times, August 26, 1992, Herbert Mitgang, review of For the Sake of Elena, p. B2; August 17, 1994, Sarah Lyall, "Making the List," p. C16; December 14, 1999, Mel Gussow, "Golly! A Yank Wrote Those Oh-So-British Mysteries?," p. B1; April 10, 2005, Dwight Garner, "Inside the List," review of With No One as Witness.
New York Times Book Review, November 12, 1989, Josh Rubins, review of Payment in Blood, p. 58; August 12, 1990, Marilyn Stasio, review of Well-Schooled in Murder, p. 21; June 20, 1993, Marilyn Stasio, review of Missing Joseph, p. 21; April 21, 1996, Marilyn Stasio, review of In the Presence of the Enemy, p. 39; August 10, 1997, Marilyn Stasio, review of Deception on His Mind, p. 18.
People, October 11, 1999, Pam Lambert, review of In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner, p. 49; August 6, 2001, review of A Traitor to Memory, p. 53.
Philadelphia Inquirer, October 18, 2006, Maxine Clarke, review of What Came before He Shot Her.
Publishers Weekly, May 23, 1994, review of Playing for the Ashes, p. 80; March 11, 1996, Lisa See Kendall, "Elizabeth George: An American in Scotland Yard: Each Novel Has Outperformed the Last," profile of Elizabeth George, p. 38; August 2, 1999, review of In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner, p. 71; June 4, 2001, review of A Traitor to Memory, p. 60; February 21, 2005, review of With No One as Witness, p. 161; August 7, 2006, review of What Came before He Shot Her, p. 31.
School Library Journal, January, 1998, Susan H. Woodcock, review of Deception on His Mind, p. 136.
Star-Ledger, March 24, 1996, Jessica Cleerdin, review of In the Presence of the Enemy, p. 6.
Swiss News, March, 2006, review of With No One as Witness, p. 60.
Wall Street Journal, August 9, 1994, Tom Nolan, review of Playing for the Ashes, p. A10; July 25, 1997, Tom Nolan, review of Deception on His Mind, p. A12; August 24, 1999, review of In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner, p. A16.
Washington Post, August 29, 1989, Carolyn Banks, "Lord Lynley's Well-Staged Return," review of Payment in Blood, p. E3; February 29, 1996, James Hynes, "The Really Big Sleep," review of In the Presence of the Enemy, p. C2.
Washington Post Book World, July 15, 1990, Jean M. White, "Beneath the Old Ivy," review of Well-Schooled in Murder, p. 11; October 17, 1999, Katy Munger, review of In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner, p. 13.
Bookreporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (January 2, 2007), biography of Elizabeth George; Kathy Weissman, review of What Came before He Shot Her; Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum, review of With No One as Witness; Terry Miller Shannon, review of A Moment on the Edge; Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum, review of A Place of Hiding; Bethanne Kelly Patrick, review of Write Away: One Novelist's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life.
Elizabeth George Web site,http://www.elizabethgeorgeonline.com (January 2, 2007).
Internet Movie Database,http://www.imdb.com/ (January 2, 2007), filmography of Elizabeth George.
MyShelf.com,http://www.myshelf.com/ (October, 1999), "October 1999's Author of the Month: Elizabeth George," profile of Elizabeth George.