In Elizabeth George's new book, Thomas Lynley delves into the London underworld
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
**** Elizabeth George, one of the bestselling authors in the world, has a new book that brings us back into the realm of Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley of the London police. But the DI, now acting DS - detective superintendent - begins to see that the coma and death of Detective Sergeant Teo Bontempi is tied into a London underworld in which he'll need help from colleagues, DSes Barbara Havers and Winston Nkata. "Something To Hide" is the new mystery from Elizabeth George, who joins us from Seattle. Thanks so much for being with us.
ELIZABETH GEORGE: Thank you so much for having me. It's a real pleasure.
SIMON: Well, the pleasure is ours. And this is quite a book. It begins as what seems like a murder investigation but becomes kind of a race to save lives, doesn't it?
GEORGE: Yeah. Yes, indeed it does. You know, it looks like it's a simple murder, but, of course, nothing is simple in these kinds of situations. And so there are lives at risk and lives being endangered by traditional beliefs of a group of people.
SIMON: The heart of the story is the continuing practice and the crime of female genital mutilation. We should explain that female genital mutilation is practiced in about 30 countries, and some people who immigrate bring the practice with them.
GEORGE: Yes, they do. And, of course, it's against the law, but in the past it's been very difficult to identify the people who are still engaging in this particular activity. Now what they're trying to do is stop it through education, and there's a team at the Metropolitan Police who are involved in identifying where it's taking place and also going into the schools to explain.
SIMON: Tell us about these new characters that you've introduced us to. I want to begin with DS Barbara Havers and note that she's the HR department's nightmare in many ways, isn't she?
GEORGE: (Laughter) Yeah, she is. Barbara has been in almost all of my novels, and she - I initially created her as a foil for the main detective in the series, Thomas Lynley, because Thomas Lynley is from the - you know, if you can say high upper classes. He would have been called an aristocrat in other days. And so he was my character who was going to be investigating the crimes, and I realized that he was just a little bit too perfect. And to make him a little bit more imperfect, I came up with the character Barbara Havers, with whom he is at loggerheads time and again.
SIMON: She says all the things we can't.
GEORGE: Exactly, yeah. You know, she'll say anything, do anything, dress anyway she likes. But she's also pretty smart. And I've had just wonderful fun with her throughout the years. And part of her raison d'etre in the novel is to add some levity because my books are pretty grim and would remain grim otherwise if I didn't have these moments of levity. And generally, Barbara Havers provides them.
SIMON: And tell us about DS Winston Nkata. This is a particularly - well, it'd be a hard investigation for anyone, but he has - it's particularly hard for him, isn't it?
GEORGE: Yeah. I mean, Winston knows that there are certain elements of the investigation that are given to him because he is a Black man. They know that they need a Black officer who's going to go into this community. No way is anyone going to talk to, you know, a white officer. So he is involved in order to sort of run interference.
SIMON: How many novels have you written?
GEORGE: This is my 21st crime novel. And I've also written four young adult novels.
SIMON: Yeah. What comes to you first - a crime, a practice that you feel it's important to witness and follow or the characters you put in your novels?
GEORGE: You know, it changes with every book. This book, I knew that the underlying issue was going to be the abuse of women in this particular form. I knew that that was what I was going to be exploring. And sometimes that's what I do. I explore a social issue. Sometimes it's something that I want to learn. For example, I want to learn about Parliament. And so "In The Presence Of The Enemy" was about the kidnapping of the daughter of a member of Parliament. And so if I was going to do that, that meant I needed to learn about Parliament. And so that is one of the forms of investigation and research that I do, is that just satisfying my own need for learning something.
SIMON: How does somebody from Warren, Ohio, become one of the great British mystery writers? I mean, if I may, why not put Inspector Lynley on the Cleveland Police Department?
GEORGE: (Laughter) Yeah, really. Well, then he wouldn't be English, and that would be a problem. Of course, he could. I suppose he could become English. But the thing is that I have always loved England. And when I was in high school, I wrote a group of short stories about this - sort of a coterie of individuals who lived in the glamorous city of Manchester. I'd never been to Manchester, but...
SIMON: I think it's fair to call it the Cleveland of the U.K. And they are proud of it. Yes.
GEORGE: (Laughter) Yeah. So I never even considered writing an American crime novel. It was always going to be a British crime novel.
SIMON: Elizabeth George - her book, "Something To Hide" - thank you so much for being with us.
GEORGE: Thank you so much, Scott. It's been a pleasure to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.