Fans who have been eagerly awaiting the paperback release of Elizabeth George's eleventh novel, A Traitor to Memory will not be too disappointed. Well-developed characters and crisp, clear dialogue punctuate the solid story line in the skillful style George fans have come to expect. Deliciously vulgar characters like TongueMan, the on-line Lothario, present a counter-point to those like Jill Davies, whose mouth apparently would not melt butter, and the tension is generally taut throughout. A particularly poignant portrayal is drawn of Libby Neale. The American 'philistine, who clings to her ignorance like a badge of accomplishment' is arguably one of the most likeable and multi-dimensional of George's current characters. Although she dwells somewhat on her weight, and is referred to by Gideon's father as one of 'an entire generation of layabouts who've had everything handed to them on a platter,' Libby's unpretentiousness and contradictory nanve sophistication are charming, and make her boyfriend Gideon appear, in contrast, like a pouting and over-indulged little prig.
The stream-of-consciousness device used in the sections featuring the former child-prodigy Gideon is, although not unique in genre fiction, certainly a departure for George. Perhaps that is why it feels clumsy at first. Backstory is provided by means of mental flashbacks and reflections which are essential to understanding the plot. However, the lack of conventional tag lines in these sections tends to disrupt the flow of an otherwise tight rendering. At times, it is not entirely clear whether Gideon is actually talking to Dr. Rose, his therapist, whether he is reading aloud from his journal entries, or simply writing the entries as though he were addressing the therapist who assigned the writing exercise.
By mid-point in the novel, it is easy to tire of Gideon's terminal and unrelenting self-absorption to the point that the reader may be tempted to skim some of these sections.
Astute readers will be left wondering throughout what happened to Katie, the young woman who, in the opening pages, is run down by a car and presumably killed. Despite the fact that she is mentioned in a peripheral way in various chapters, her ultimate demise is never clearly dealt with. This rankles, particularly in a novel in which virtually every casualty is the victim of a hit-and-run driver.
Readers may also struggle to sort out the names that George has chosen for the characters this time around. In addition to Liberty (a.k.a Libby) and Katie, and the regulars Webberley and Lynley (who, by the way, drives a Bentley), we now have Pitchley and Wiley who both live in or around Henley. Not to put too fine a point on it, it takes a rather lively memory to sort it all out, and one is left to wonder whether the name choices were purposefully tongue-in-cheek.
Loyal fans may also be disappointed at the scanty focus in this novel on either of the two regular series protagonists. One of the magnetic properties of serial characters is their ability to sustain reader interest in their lives over extended periods of time. Unfortunately, Inspector Thomas Lynley and Constable Barbara Havers are not sufficiently focussed on in this story to enable readers to draw any deep conclusions about how the lives of these two characters are currently going. To many, this may be the novel's most serious flaw.
All that said, it is a tribute to the author's enduring talent that the minutiae do not detract to any considerable degree from the overall pleasure this novel provides. A Traitor to Memory is still an exciting and satisfying read, and one that is sure to have Elizabeth George fans lined up well before dawn for her next offering. ò