What I learned about writing from reading all 19 Thomas Lynley mysteries in order

Every once in a while, I like to pick an established author who has written a respectable set of books and read their books in the order in which they were written. I first did this back in the mid-aughts with Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody mysteries.

I started it not because I expected to pick up anything interesting about writing, but because I wanted to read a lot of brain candy while pretending I was doing something literary.  I could tell people that I was reading the Peabody mystery series in order to learn something about the craft of writing, but in truth I was doing it because the Amelia Peabody mysteries were excellently sized for a plane ride. And for whatever reason, I took a lot of plane rides back in 2005-6.

RiverInSkyBut by reading her mysteries in order, I accidentally discovered that Elizabeth Peters developed a lot as a writer over the course of writing these novels. Turns out, it actually was fascinating to watch Peters gain mastery over the craft in the years between the publication of her first Amelia Peabody, Crocodile on the Sandbank in 1975, and the completion of her last, A River in the Sky in 2010.

The experience was such a wonderful — and frankly — encouraging one that in 2014 I decided to repeat it with Elizabeth George’s Thomas Lynley mysteries. With 19 fairly sizeable and emotionally intense novels in the Lynley canon, I’ve been working on this one in fits and starts. Elizabeth George demands rather more of me emotionally than Peters did, so I found that I could only read two or three George novels in a row before retreating to lighter fare.

After one last intense push through the final three novels in the series (so far), I finally finished my Elizabeth George survey last month.

This time around it wasn’t so much George’s development as a writer that struck me (frankly after all this time, I don’t remember the details of her early books well enough to make comparisons), but the striking differences in the quality of her writing in the last three Lynley novels.

While I enjoyed both Believing the Lie and Just One Evil Act, I felt those particular books had a lot of plot bloat that her editor should have cut out. It made me wonder if George had become so successful that her editor was giving her a freer rein than he or she should.

And then I discovered in the acknowledgments for Just One Evil Act that George’s longtime UK editor at Hodder and Stoughton, Sue Fletcher, had retired from editing in December 2012, and that George was just starting a new editing relationship with Nick Sayers. Thus, my working theory evolved into one in which Elizabeth George and her new editor were still figuring out how to work together. Perhaps in the course of sorting out the dynamics of the experienced-writer-with-new-editor relationship, some issues didn’t get addressed that maybe should have.

I will obviously never know the truth of it, but what I do know is that  A Banquet of Consequences marks the third book George has completed under the auspices of her new UK editor, Nick Sayers, and the second with her US editor at Dutton, Brian Tart.  Banquet is much tighter and much more engaging than its two immediate predecessors. Once again, George is back to crafting novels in which her characters are richly drawn, the mystery and the relationship muddles complex and compelling, and the steady push forward in both Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers’ private lives is both believably paced and intriguing.

Apparently, even experienced writers at the top of their game really rely on their editors to bring out the best in their writing.


  1. This reminds me of a preview that I recently saw for a movie about the relationship between Thomas wolf and his editor.


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