Book Thoughts: Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George


**Please note.  What follows is packed with spoilers.  Do not continue if you haven’t read the book yet and wish to remain unspoiled!**

Writing Like It’s 1985…

I spent a long time trying to decide what, precisely, I disliked so much about this book.  It’s well-written and as far as the locations, well-researched.  A quick skim of the reviews on Amazon list the top three complaints as:

  • It’s unusually far-fetched, even for a 600 page mystery.
  • It focuses too much on whiny, self-obsessed Deborah St. James.
  • It provides no satisfying whodunit.

And all that is true.  But I can forgive a wild, convoluted plot (heaven knows I sometimes write them) and anytime Deborah appears in a story, I steel myself.  Beautiful, redheaded Deborah, forever miserable because she once had an abortion and is now infertile (as we are told in every single book) is one of those shallow, pointless characters who should have been killed off ages ago.  As for the early revelation that the death was just an accident, and we’re in for 600 pages without a murderer — well, that’s an artistic choice I can actually respect.  Sometimes investigations go nowhere.  Mind you, George was taking a chance by doing that to her readers, and I’m not surprised that some weren’t pleased.  But surely she ran that risk with eyes wide open.

No, what I so thoroughly disliked about this book is its outdated sensibilities.  Believing the Lie might as well be subtitled, “The Truth According to 1985.”  In the book, the sympathetic female, Manette, states without irony that women’s ages are reckoned like dog years, and though she’s near Lynley’s age, he can’t be expected to find her attractive.  Meanwhile Valerie, a family matriarch, explains that “all talk of sexism aside,” little boys enjoy physical games and little girls prefer to play with miniature appliances while imagining their loving husbands will be home soon.  I caught on early that Alatea, the perfect wife of former wastrel Nicholas, was transgender and hiding it from her husband.  But even I was surprised when the entire climax hinged on driving Alatea to suicide.  Can’t you just see that as a TV movie of the week from 1985?  “The searing story of a woman with a terrible secret…”

Then there’s Tim Cresswell.  Tim is a sensitive and intelligent fourteen year old boy.  We’re told he was perfectly well adjusted until his father announced he was gay and walked out on the family on Tim’s birthday.  Naturally, Tim is sent to live full-time with dad and the new lover, because that makes perfect sense, and they live in an unrenovated farm house with old-fashioned keyholes.  So of course Tim peeks through a keyhole, watches Dad and new lover going at it, and turns violent and suicidal.  This is presented as a logical consequence; as Manette asks, what was such a revelation expected to do to Tim’s burgeoning sexuality?  Why, destroy it, of course.  Because this is 1985 and gay parenting is still a TV movie-of-the-week notion.  Unlike fourteen year old boys in 2012, Tim has never had a gay friend, sneaked a look at gay images on the computer, or sexually experimented with either gender.  1985 offers no family counseling for Tim, just a school for delinquents and unrestricted internet access, allowing him to chat up a pedophile and arrange his own (homosexual) rape and murder.  Lucky for him, Manette and her husband swoop in to give Tim a loving, normal home.

Notice I didn’t mention Lynley?  He’s barely in it.  Barbara Havers?  Ditto.  She’s still wearing those “red high-topped trainers,” though.  Very similar to the hightops Cybill Shepherd wore to accept her Emmy … in 1985.

9 thoughts on “Book Thoughts: Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George

  1. I love your book review – it’s the funniest thing I’ve read for ages. Thank God I don’t have to read the book as you’ve done it for me! It’s not easy finding a blog you actually want to return on a regular basis (it’s not like there’s enough time in the universe….or at least, not in mine) but I’m going to keep up with yours. I just have to go and check what you have to say about Captain Kirk…..

  2. Great Blog, also listen to the review by Elaine Charles 11&12 march. Bookreportradio.com – she does really accurate reviews and you might find it interesting to listen to her weekly slot

  3. I desperately hope Elizabeth George reads her reviews and murders or forgets about the whiney St. James’. Tiresome, tedious, vapid, vacant, soulless posers-there’s no THERE there. And Lynley’s affair-ugh, as if. Enough with the endless grieving for St/Lady Helen. She was trite and blithe and totally unrealistic to begin with. Getting murdered was her greatest feat. Havers is the best part of the series. Why George has removed her and her wonderful chermistry with Lynley, I’ll never know. Not to mention the poignancy of her relationship with her neighbor and the little girl. It’s breathtakingly beautiful.

  4. I actually like the book, even though I do get frustrated with the whiney Deborah. However the parts that Barbara appears in carry the book, make me laugh and I am now dying to know how she solves the “cliffhanger” in the next story. It sounds like there will be lots of Barbara Havers in that one! But you are very correct in the attitudes and mores – kind of outdated. It did not keep me from reading it through to the end, though. I am kind of hoping we don’t have to wait 2 more years for the next book!

  5. I googled spoilers for this book because I could not bear one more moment of not knowing if George kills off her Alatea character or not. Thank you. I suspected she would. I’ve been listening to the audio. The book is not sold anywhere and the library is out of all the copies. Thank you for letting me know so I can stop stop stop now. So refreshing to know that I am not alone disliking the horrifically spoiled, self-involved, Paris Hilton-like Deborah St. James. Nice to hear my disgust is shared by other women. I will only read another one in which she receives some due for causing the whole painful mess around Nicholas and Alatea’s life. I am finished with Elizabeth George now. I could not tolerate George’s attitude toward her gay, trans and questioning characters. No empathy, no connection with them at all. They are not real or believable. She should stay away from using characters she can’t envision connecting to as her writing reveals. She should write only through people she feels humanity toward which leaves half the people in this book out and I suspect a very narrow spectrum. Thank you for saving me from continuing on. I am not disciplined enough to leave a mystery yet so you did rescue me from very unpleasant company. Barbara Havers yes!

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