02 October 2007

A writers choice

A few years ago, I was introduced by a co-worker to the works of Elizabeth George, an American born writer of British crime fiction. The novels are well written, with great character observations, but have a tendency to be long-winded and filled with language usage that takes time getting used to. The plots are fairly weighty also, with issues such as incest, betrayal of country, pornography, schoolyard bullying, illegitimate birth, arranged marriage, drug use, prostitution, sadomasochism and the likes. Plus, her characters and her stories usually focus more of the unsavory peoples of the world, where proper English is only spoken once in a blue moon.

Back in 2005, she released With No One as Witness, another lurid tale of murder, this time by a serial killer targeting young boys of color. As the story winds towards its conclusion, a striking, out of the blue murder happens, and Inspector Lynley’s wife, the fan favorite Helen, is struck down. When I read that part, I was confused. Plus, after reading until the end, her death had nothing to do with the main plot. I wondered why she would kill Helen off in such a random sort of way.

A year and half later, Elizabeth George would explain. In What Came Before He Shot Her, the tale of Joel Campbell is told. It’s a story about a family who find there is no good luck and reality is not fair. With his father dead, and his mother in an instructional for mentally unstable, Joel, his older sister Vanessa, and deeply troubled younger brother Toby, are abandoned by their grandmother (who promises to claim them after she settles back in Jamaica) on steps of their Aunt Kendra, a women who is finally finding her life come together.

George had, in the first draft of No One As Witness, detailed Joel’s life, but felt there was so much material, that she excised the whole subplot and moved it to What Came. And then she had to explain why Helen did to her fans, who were outraged that she would kill off a main character in such a random way.

Which was, from her point of view, the whole point. As she said on her web site, “because that is how people die all the time. In London. In New York. In Los Angeles. In Washington D.C. Across the globe. They are in the right place—at home, at work, in a restaurant, on the beach, in a shopping mall, on the underground—at the worst possible time.”

Plus, she felt that she wanted the characters to grow from novel to novel and not be “frozen in time.” And as a person who writes character based murder mysteries, instead the plot driven types of say The Da Vinci Code, she felt important that the characters are “real people undergoing a real human experience.” Thus, this included the apparent random murder of leading character.

To her I say bravo, because it does take courage to kill off any main character, whether it be in a series of long running novels, or a long running TV program. Fans may be upset, and claim that they read, or watch TV shows not to be exposed to what’s going on in the “real” world, that they read or watch to escape the reality of life, but that’s what makes them better than knowing that while many will die, the heroes always win, always survive.

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