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Seattle author Elizabeth George talks about writing her 21st novel about Inspector Lynley

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Elizabeth George has an endgame for her hit mysteries of Inspector Thomas Lynley – the most recent of which, “Something to Hide,” come in bookstores on January 11. But, much to the relief of the show’s many fans, it hasn’t come to that yet.

George, speaking in a phone interview from her Seattle home, said she was always excited to start a new Lynley book: “There’s always a sense of coming home when the characters walk in. the page, as if I saw them after a long hiatus. ” (Formerly of Whidbey Island, George now writes his novels in the UK from a Capitol Hill office.) Although she “has known for a very long time where the characters are heading and how their stories will end,” George said she hadn’t. yet discovered exactly how to get them to this point. “Plus, I don’t want to close anyone’s story by being rushed. I think it’s really important to keep opening up a character’s story.

So those who have long loved this series, which began in 1988 with “A Great Deliverance”, don’t have to worry about it closing as they dive into “Something to Hide.” It’s the 21st book to introduce the gentleman, Patrician Lynley – he is, in fact, the eighth Earl of Asherton, and currently the acting detective’s chief superintendent at London’s New Scotland Yard – and his tongue-in-cheek and junk-food partner, Staff Sgt. -detective Barbara Havers. In it, Lynley, Havers and their colleague Detective Sergeant Winston Nkata are called when a police detective working in a special task force is murdered. As is typical of George’s novels, several storylines begin to converge and new and old characters come to the fore (including Deborah St. James, a longtime friend of Lynley’s, and Nkata’s caring mother, Alice) .

Much of the book takes place within the Nigerian community of north London, and George said she specifically asked her UK editor to ask a Nigerian reader to review a draft and give her opinion, in particularly on issues related to ritual genital mutilation (an important element in one of the subplots of the book involving a Nigerian immigrant family). But after much research on the subject, she was convinced that she understood the issues. “In some ways, I’ve been doing this my entire career, writing about other cultures,” George said. “This is what I have always tried to do with a lot of sensitivity and respect.

“Something to Hide” was particularly difficult not only for its subject matter, but also for its complicated timeline; George said she must have written five drafts before she got one she was completely happy with. A longtime writing teacher (whose process she explored in her recent non-fiction book “Mastering the Process: From Idea to Novel”), George described the problem of timeline as “keeping the reader in good stead. part of the wave – the plot is the breaking wave, and the reader is either riding the wave or swimming fast to catch up with it. The reader cannot be in front. While working on the book, she would sometimes “reach for it” at a certain point and realize, okay the drive is in the wrong place so I have to start over. It took a lot longer than my books normally. I was really happy when I was able to fix the problem. and succeed in modifying the book so that the timeline works. ”

George traveled to London to research the novel in 2018, visiting the neighborhoods where its story would take place and speaking to the people who lived there. It was the right time: she ended up finishing the novel during the pandemic – “I just kept going to my office; my days were as they always have been. Although she relies mainly on the many notes and photographs of her research, the Internet sometimes gives her a hand: she found the house of a young character, in the London suburb of Stoke Newington, on Google earth – “exactly the house his family would probably live in.”

As always, George took particular pleasure in the character of Barbara Havers, whose T-shirts are legendary. (The one she sports in “Something to Hide” says “Being cremated is my last hope for a burning body.”) In this book, Barbara discovers Pop-Tarts as breakfast food (“They were mean enough so that I thought they would make it work for Barbara, ”said George) and continues to say exactly what she thinks.

“She’s a lot of fun to write, and part of that is because she has the edge,” said George. “What I tell my writing students is that it’s always easier to write a character that has edge. It’s a lot harder to write a character that is generally a nice person. no one, without an edge, seems to have nothing to hold onto a reader… So it’s hard to describe this without ending up with someone who looks like Pollyanna. That’s why Havers exists in a way for me. have a good time, and she is so thin funny. I never know for sure what she’s going to say, I literally don’t know where she’s from, but she occupies a big place in my brain.

Currently working on a young adult novel, George nevertheless has Lynley’s next book in mind and was able to take a research trip to London and Cornwall last fall. “Basically I’m a literary sleuth, going out and checking all these different places for potential stories,” she said. She has to finish the YA novel before moving on to Lynley, but on the 22sd book of the series is already taking shape in his head: “I have the photographs, and the typed interviews. I know what the crime is, I know where the story takes place.

Someday, she will complete the Lynley / Havers saga, but she has no plans to do so anytime soon. “I’m not sure when this is happening,” she said. “But ultimately, before I jump in, I would like to end the series so that the reader has an end – so that they can see the circle has come full circle.”

Discussion with Elizabeth George

George will speak online about “Something to Hide,” in Conversation with Seattle novelist Laurie Frankel, at 6 pm Tuesday, January 11, presented by Third Place Books and Book Passage (Calif.); free; information: Thirdplacebooks.com