Elizabeth George is best known for her psychological crime novels. She has 15 books published. This is her first short story collection. Three of the five stories were previously published elsewhere.
An introduction before each story informs the listener where the idea originated. I wonder if non-writers are interested in this type of information or would they sooner get to the story. From a writing perspective, I was interested but in some cases felt it took away from the story or gave too much away. Each story and introduction is narrated by Tony Award winner, Derek Jacobi.
Exposure is a rewrite of a previously published story, The Evidence Exposed. George felt she had killed the wrong person in her first version.
A history of British Architecture class at Cambridge University takes a field trip to Abinger Manor to do some research. They get more than they signed up for when one of them is murdered.
There is a special appearance by Thomas Lindley, a character from one of George's novels. There are over 10 characters in this, the shortest story in this collection. With so many characters there is barely room for much else. It was more of a character study than a mystery. After listening three times, I still don�t get the murder.
The Surprise of His Life
The idea for The Surprise of His Life came from a story that ran rampant in the media during the 1990s in which a man allegedly murdered his estranged wife and her lover. Intrigued by the story, George hypothesized the original act: what went through the murderer�s mind, how he might have planned and executed the murder and what might have gone wrong.
Douglas Armstrong is turning 55. He's married to a beautiful woman, Donna who's only 29 years old. A wealthy man, he wants for nothing. On a whim he visits a fortune teller who tells him he will have an "external surprise".
Douglas focuses on this phrase letting it get the best of his senses. He deciphers it to mean his wife is having an affair, despite the fortune teller's advice, "Trust is key. Trust is essential".
Douglas hires a PI to follow his wife around and becomes further disturbed when he is shown pictures of her and his brother in a secret meeting. He obsesses further over her unfaithfulness and sets out to plan her demise which does lead him into a shocking external surprise.
This story is a wonderful example of how irrational our minds can be and how easy it is to assume we know the truth when in fact it is likely we do not have all the information. Like Exposure, you know there will be a murder before it occurs. I found this story predictable to the finale. No surprises here.
Good Fences Aren't Always Enough
Elizabeth George gets story ideas from "everywhere and anywhere". Her ideas can come from articles, experience, locations, photographs or conversations she's participated in or overheard. Good Fences Aren't Always Enough came out of a "walking and hiking tour in Vermont" where she heard a tale about
an eccentric woman. The title is from a poem by Robert Frost. This story reminded me a lot of The Burbs with Tom Hanks.
An elderly woman moves into a family-oriented neighbourhood. She is a recluse, going out to work at the college and little else. Even her groceries are delivered. Willow decides to take it upon herself to "make
nice" with the new neighbour. On route to the woman's front door, Willow discovers rats inhabit the ivy bushes that blanket the yard and house. A meeting is called amongst the neighbours and they decide an intervention is in order since the woman won't admit there's a rat problem. A bloody conclusion causes the woman to move out but not before Willow finds out why the woman befriended rats.
I thought the story was over at this point and was happy with the outcome but then it picked up again after 8 months. Willow feels guilty about how the old woman was treated. She decides to track down the woman and apologize. Although the direction was shocking it was not surprising and was somewhat predictable. Still a good story.
Remember, I'll Always Love You
Remember, I'll always love you, were the final words Eric Laudon said to his wife Charlie. She blamed herself for the death of her 42 year old husband because she didn�t read the signs. During the weeks leading up to his death he had gotten a tattoo and a new Harley. He died a gruesome death, though we don't hear how at first but are led to surmise.
Very few people come to the funeral, not even his parents or his daughter. Eric was estranged from his parents and hadn't talked to them in a long time. Charlie was told it was because of a hunting accident as a child in which he tripped and the gun went off killing his brother.
Charlie decides to find his parents but she doesn�t know much about them or where they live. She finds a receipt behind an old photograph, giving her a lead to start with. Through Charlie's research she begins to realize her husband had more secrets then she cared to believe and that she really didn't know the man she thought she loved. Instead of being a salesman for a pharmaceutical company she learns he is a molecular biologist, among other things.
This is the best story in this collection, more suspenseful than the others. I was hooked and curious of the outcome throughout. This one is a winner.
Elizabeth George's affinity for Richard III led to this story. She enjoyed the controversy surrounding him.
Malcolm Cousins is a 49 year old history teacher who gives tours of Bosworth Field. He's been having an affair with his childhood friend's wife for many years not because of the sex twice a week but to assure the legacy of his life work. Malcolm wants to be the first to show Richard the III didn't kill his nephews but tried to save them. Betsy is the key to prove this and he keeps this in mind every time he becomes repulsed by the thought of "bonking" her.
I found the story about Richard III, the mystery of the princes' deaths and the night before the Battle of Bosworth Field more interesting than the characters. This story did more to spark an interest in Richard III. I would have rather heard more about him writing a letter on the Field of Bosworth the night before his death but still it was somewhat amusing and there is a satisfaction in the ending.
Jacobi's voice is a little too relaxing. I'd be afraid to drive with this playing for fear of falling asleep and causing an accident. I often found his interpretation of character voices disturbing and confusing. An older
woman in one story has the identical voice of a young girl in another.
Following the stories is a Q & A with the author. I don't know who the interviewer is but her voice doesn't lend itself to listening to, especially after listening to Jacobi and in comparison to George's eloquent
voice. A commentary answering her own questions would have been more enjoyable. There was no interaction between interviewer and interviewee. The interviewer was obviously reading her questions that were meant to sound like dialogue.
In closing, the last two stories were the best of this collection, although I would be hard press to put out the money for an audio version. If you enjoy rich character stories and want to learn more about how Elizabeth George generates her ideas then you will enjoy this. Also if you are a new writer interested in character study and process this would be interesting and useful. As part of your "must have" audio collection, I think not.
Purchase I, Richard from Amazon.com.
Purchase I, Richard from Amazon.ca.
Purchase I, Richard on Audio CD from Amazon.
M. E. Wood lives in Eastern Ontario, Canada. If you are going to find this eclectic reader and writer anywhere it is probably at her computer. For more information visit her official website.