by Katy Kappele
Elizabeth George’s novel “In the Presence of the Enemy” began during a conversation with Sue Grafton. Grafton was on “K” of her award-winning alphabet mystery series, and George asked her if she had written a kidnap novel. Grafton’s, “Boy, did I try,” was all George needed to inspire her.
It was a Thursday night, and the auditorium of the Syre Student Center was packed, mostly by older people.
“The tabloids in England are a vicious, vicious breed,” George said. They build people up to tear them down, and there is no one better at it, she said. Once, she had a chance to ask a tabloid reporter how they found out all that scurrilous information about public figures. The answer was simple; he said, “Everyone who hates them calls us,” George said.
She had decided that the novel would feature a member of parliament who had an illegitimate child by the editor of a left-wing tabloid, who, because of her politics, was forced to raise the child, although she was ill-equipped to be a mother. The kidnapper, having stolen away the child, would force the father to acknowledge his “fist-born child” on the front page of his newspaper. The only problem is that the father isn’t sure if his first child is the daughter of the member of parliament.
As George flew over to England to scout a location for her book, she swears she picked up a copy of the Daily Mail that answered her last question about the novel. The only thing she wasn’t yet sure of was how the tabloids would handle the illegitimate child of a member of parliament. Now she knew.
George always knows the ending before she writes her books, carefully crafting realistic characters and ensuring that the killer is physiologically and psychologically equipped to kill another human being.
“Only one character is designed to do anything, and that’s the killer,” George said. “That character has to be designed to kill another human being.”
George said she tries to make her novels more than just mysteries. They deal with real issues in England and are intended to dive into the complexities of human relationships and human issues.
“I have a large set of continuing characters,” she said. “I wanted to move their story forward.”
Unfortunately, the television series was disappointing to George. “They left all of the grittiness out of the books,” George said.
However, at least one member of the audience disagreed. “The TV show is really good,” said Barbara Shepherd. “I’d watch them all again. I love Inspector Lynley.”