Believing the Lie
by Elizabeth George (Hodder, 2012)
Elizabeth George of Inspector Lynley fame is an experienced author and has earned her name in the crime writers’ hall of fame. No arguing there. Yet her later Lynley and Havers novels have been wraith-like shadows of her earlier work. The characters have been well and truly decimated, the writing increasingly wordy and the plotlines more and more ridiculous. As an author, though of a much lowly stature compared to George, I don’t feel good about ripping someone else’s work apart, but there is really little good to say about this monster of a book, which would have greatly benefitted from an editor’s delete key.
Val McDermid, in her review of Jo Nesbo’s The Son, said the following:
To read crime fiction contentedly requires a hefty suspension of disbelief, and some books require a more substantial letting go of credence than others. Unfortunately [this] novel… displays both narrative flair and compelling forward motion… but I struggled to accept either the set-up or the characters who carry it to its all-too-predictable conclusion.
It felt to me as if McDermid was picking the words right out of my mind in what I felt about George’s Believing the Lie, a most unfortuante Lynley and Havers novel. Having said that, I wouldn’t quite use the term “flair” for the narration, and, while the conclusion might be preposterous, it certiainly wasn’t “predictable”.
Believing the Lie feels like someone is torturing Elizabeth George to keep writing. The plot is non-existent, the characters—especially the regulars—feel like caricatures of themselves and some of the storylines highly objectionable. Let’s elaborate:
- Lack of plot/ridiculousness of plot: Rich man’s wife manipulates rich man into calling a Scotland Yard detective (Lynley) to conduct an unofficial, unobtrusive investigation of his nephew’s (accidental) death. Her real motive: bring his long-time affair out into the open. Question is, if she already knew about it, why the charade? Also, this, then, makes it a crime novel without a crime, unless you count the book itself…
- Ludicrious undercover charade: Lynley brings along Simon and Deborah St James as his support staff. Um, who’s paying for all this? That’s never made clear, but then, speaking of money in these circles is indelicate. On top of this, all of them, and especially Deborah, opt for various asinine undercover stories, because, apparently, no one in Cumbria has heard of Google.
- What’s wrong with Deborah?: (Has anyone noticed that Lynley’s late wife Helen and Deborah have exactly the same personality?) Was Deborah always this vacant and annoying, with no notion of the world beyond her own self? In this book, obssessed with her need for having a child (a biological child, mind you, to give the “crippled” Simon an ego boost [and Simon’s self-pity and his identifying as a “cripple” has always been somewhat heavy on the nerves as well]), she ends up badgering an innocent woman to her death, with absolutely no consequences. She also impersonates a police officer—surely there are serious consequences to that, at least?
- The Lynley/Havers relationship: This could have been the most endearing part of the series, but for some reason George is particularly loath to develop this relationship in a healthy manner. Havers’ loyalty is neither acknowledged nor returned by Lynley. He takes her for granted, leaves her to take the fall for him, never things to express any gratitude, and fails to be there for her in her time of crisis. Honestly, does this sound like the Lynley we once knew and loved?
- Havers: DS Havers is overwhelmingly the favourite character of the series’ readers, and they are fast losing patience with the author’s ill-treatment of the sergeant. Is it difficult to believe that Havers can be hounded into changing her appearance by Acting Superintendent Isabelle Ardery. In fact, as one reviewer pointed out, Ardery’s borders on harrassment, and I, for one, can’t believe that the real Havers wouldn’t just tell her to back off (with a different four-letter word, of course). Moreover, why is George so insistent on scuppering her chance at romance? Because she’s not conventionally attractive?
- Lynley’s love life: Long story short—Lynley is sleeping with his boss. Good news is, they end it in this book, which is just as well, because there is zero chemistry—though we are being told there is, rather than shown any fireworks—and there was no rhyme or reason why they started seeing each other in the first place.
- Misrepresentation of sexual/gender minorities: All right, how to say this in a polite manner? The Lynley books have always been of a fairly heteronormative bent. With the notable exception of Havers, characters and their roles have been fairly stereotypical. Believing the Lie seems to have set out to change all that in one fell swoop, in an exceedingly objectionable manner. The author conveniently clubs transgenderism/cross-dressing and sexual orientation into one category, with the explanation that people deviating from the gender and sexuality “norms” are kindred spirits. Add to this the fact that any deviation from heterosexuality has been portrayed in a negative manner. The two most important gay characters are shown as weak and deceitful; and a young boy confused with his sexuality decides to end his life—brace yourself—by starring in a snuff movie. (Suddenly the term “facepalm” makes sense to me.)
- Idiotic side plots: There is a completely inconsquential side plot about a wannabe-poet tabloid journalist (complete with some objectionable anti-Semitic stereotypes), his inability to use his brains and a love story. The child-porn subplot was unnecessary and in bad taste as well.
So shall we just say that Believing the Lie has a really ironic title and leave it at that?
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