Her main characters are Detective Inspector Lynley and Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers. Lynley is an aristocrat. Havers is from a working-class background. As the series begins, Havers resents working with the posh Inspector Lynley. Over time, they settle into a friendship, and have respect for each other. There are numerous secondary characters that are well portrayed and also evolve throughout the series. In some cases, for example Simon Allcourt-St James, forensic scientist, and
Deborah St James, his wife, the secondary characters often play nearly as large a part in the story as the detectives.
The Inspector Lynley series is technically in the police procedural sub-genre. But there is usually so much going on with peripheral characters and subplots that I don't see them this way. However, the fact that Lynley and Havers can use the resources of New Scotland Yard make the investigations more believable. I don't limit my mystery reading to police procedurals or private detective novels, but I do see them as more grounded in reality, requiring less suspension of belief (in most cases).
The first mystery in the Inspector Lynley series is A Great Deliverance. I don't remember if I read it when it was first published (1988), but I do remember being very impressed with it when I did read it. In addition to the very interesting characters, the plot was intriguing and the ending surprised me. This novel won the Agatha Award and the Anthony Award for "Best First Novel" and was also nominated for the Edgar in the same category.
In this story, Lynley and Havers are paired for the first time and find themselves sent to Keldale Valley in Yorkshire. From the author's web site:
Fat, unlovely Roberta Teys has been found, clad in her best silk dress, seated in the great stone barn beside her father's decapitated corpse. Her first and only words were: "I did it. I'm not sorry." She has refused to speak since. The priest who found young Roberta insists the girl is innocent. The villagers, who have known the girl all of her life, concur. The local police, however, maintain that she's guilty of the brutal slaying of one of the region's most respected citizens.It surprised me to learn that this was awarded an Agatha. I associate that award with cozies. This book is definitely not a cozy, although the important elements are there: no explicit sex, no gratuitous violence.
I read the latest book in the Inspector Lynley series, Believing the Lie, this January, shortly after it was published. Elizabeth George is one of the few mystery authors who inspire me to buy the hardback edition as soon as it is published. (Two others are Susan Hill and Kate Atkinson. Those I have to wait until the US edition comes out.)
In this story, Lynley is ordered by the Chief of New Scotland Yard to go undercover to investigate a death in Cumbria in the Lake District. He is instructed to keep his mission secret from his immediate superior (who is also his lover), creating a difficult situation. Havers is also not included, but she ends up helping out in London, and dealing with her own personal issues.
This one was too long. There was an important story line that focused on Deborah St James, and I felt like that could have been pared down. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book. The writing always keeps me interested. And each book is different, with some characters featured more, other characters in the sidelines.
Between the first book and the most recent one, there were 15 novels in the series. The characters have gone through some major life changes and upheavals. I have not enjoyed all of the books equally, but all kept me engaged. There was a point mid-series... I believe it was at Deception on His Mind (1996), where I gave up on the series for a while, decided it was too dark for me. I came back after a few years.
Two of the books, With No One as Witness (2005) and What Came Before He Shot Her (2006), which dealt with the death of Lynley's wife, were difficult to read. In 2010, I reread the first two books in the series and enjoyed them as much as the first time.