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In Praise of Elizabeth George

By Catherine Astolfo,

author of The  Emily Taylor Mystery Series

Being asked to choose my favourite crime or thriller novel is akin to asking me to choose my favourite dessert. At first, I am convinced there are too many delicious options to name just one. However, if pressed, I will pick the carrot cake. In this case, the carrot cake is author Elizabeth George. The slice I’ve chosen today is Missing Joseph.


To be honest I could have put any of Ms George’s books on my plate and devoured it. The main reason I love this author’s books is that she has helped to make mystery more “literary”. In the past, critics believed that mystery was somehow on a level below. Perhaps the vocabulary was not as pretty, the characters cliché, or the emotions not deep enough in the classic stories about crime. Maybe there wasn’t enough of an exploration of the human condition.


Elizabeth George is one of a group of modern mystery writers who have proven that crime writing can include every single one of those literary elements and still weave a who- or why-dunnit plot. She joined the ranks of P. D. James, Ruth Rendall and Dorothy Sayers in providing a reading experience that is at once entertaining and powerful. These women all harken back to the days of Daphne Du Maurier.


In its praise for Missing Joseph, a San Diego newspaper said that George’s “prose soars and sings.” Oh, how right they are! George uses beautiful words, metaphors and description. Her vocabulary is elevated, but accessible.  Her characters are complex. Her topics include social issues, justice and the enigma of human behaviour.


I love that George doesn’t follow all the rules of a classic mystery. She doesn’t always begin with a dead body —or even a lesser crime.  She includes lots of multi-layered characters and weaves extraordinary circumstances all around them.  It’s the beauty of the writing that holds the reader, ropes us in and then takes us for an unexpected thrill ride.


Naturally, because I like to read the nuanced, darker, less traditional mysteries, I also like to write them. My Emily Taylor Mystery series (The Bridgeman, Victim, Legacy and Seventh Fire) covers many social justice issues, including wrongful conviction and cruelty. Like Missing Joseph, the action primarily takes place in a small town, illustrating that human beings can display the whole spectrum of good and bad no matter where they live.


Similar to all of Elizabeth George’s books, my novels include love, friendship and community, and, for the most part, reach a conclusion that is just and hope-filled. Sweet Karoline, a standalone, is closer to Elizabeth’s Traitor to Memory than Joseph; they’re both more psychological suspense than mystery.


Recently I have veered into the “lighter” field with a novella, Up Chit Creek, but I long for the dark tunnels of scary circumstances and not-nice people. I simply love exploring the villainous side of human nature. Perhaps it’s a means of control. The bad guys are usually punished and order is restored. Even fictionally, I am a control freak.


I must return to the dark side soon.


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About Catherine Astolfo:

Catherine Astolfo is an Arthur Ellis winning author of short stories, The Emily Taylor Mystery Series (Imajin Books) and Sweet Karoline (Imajin Books). Her novels have been optioned for film by Sisbro & Co. Inc. A Derrick Murdoch award winner, she is a Past President of Crime Writers of Canada, and a member of both Mesdames of Mayhem and Sisters in Crime.

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