Elizabeth George does have an endgame for her bestselling Inspector Thomas Lynley mysteries — the newest of which, “Something to Hide,” arrives in bookstores Jan. 11. But, to the relief of the many fans of the series, she hasn’t arrived there yet.

George, speaking in a telephone interview from her Seattle home, said she’s always delighted to begin a new Lynley book: “There’s always a sense of homecoming when the characters step onto the page, like I’m seeing them after a long hiatus.” (Formerly of Whidbey Island, George now writes her U.K.-set novels from a Capitol Hill office.) Though she’s “known for a really long time where the characters are heading and how their stories ultimately will end,” George said she hasn’t yet discovered exactly how to get them to that point. “Plus, I don’t want to close down anyone’s story by being hasty. I think that it’s really important to keep opening a character’s story up.”

So those who’ve long loved this series, which began in 1988 with “A Great Deliverance,” needn’t worry about closure as they dive into “Something to Hide.” It’s the 21st book to feature the gentlemanly, patrician Lynley — he is, in fact, the eighth Earl of Asherton, and currently the acting detective chief superintendent at London’s New Scotland Yard — and his wry, junk-food-loving partner Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers. In this volume, Lynley, Havers and colleague Detective Sergeant Winston Nkata are called in when a police detective working on a special task force is murdered. As is typical of George’s novels, multiple plotlines begin to converge, and characters new and old step to the forefront (including Deborah St. James, a longtime friend of Lynley’s, and Nkata’s kindhearted mother, Alice).

Much of the book takes place within the Nigerian community in north London, and George said she specifically requested that her British editor ask a Nigerian woman reader to look over a draft and offer feedback, particularly on issues related to ritual genital cutting (a significant element in one of the book’s subplots involving a Nigerian immigrant family). But after much research into the topic, she felt confident that she understood the issues. “In some ways I’ve been doing that my entire career, writing about other cultures,” George said. “It’s what I’ve always tried to do with a great deal of sensitivity and respect.”

“Something to Hide” was particularly challenging not only for its subject matter, but its complicated chronology; George said she had to write five drafts before she had one she was entirely happy with. A longtime teacher of writing (the process of which she explored in her recent nonfiction book “Mastering the Process: From Idea to Novel”), George described the timeline issue as “keeping the reader at the right part of the wave — the plot is the breaking wave, and the reader is either on the wave or swimming fast to catch up with it. The reader can’t be in front of it.” Working on the book, she would sometimes “reach a certain point and realize, OK, the reader is in the wrong place so I have to start again. It took me a lot longer than my books normally do. I was really glad when I was able to crack the problem and successfully alter the book in such a way that the timeline worked.”

George traveled to London to research the novel back in 2018, visiting the neighborhoods where her story would be set and talking to people who lived there. It was good timing: she ended up finishing the novel during the pandemic — “I just continued to go to my office; my days were just as they have always been.” Though she relies mostly on the copious notes and photographs from her research, occasionally the internet lends a hand: She found one young character’s home, in the suburban London neighborhood of Stoke Newington, on Google Earth — “exactly the house her family would likely live in.”


As always, George took special pleasure in the character of Barbara Havers, whose T-shirts are legendary. (One she sports in “Something to Hide” reads “Being cremated is my last hope for a smoking hot body.”) In this book, Barbara discovers Pop-Tarts as breakfast food (“They were suitably naughty enough that I thought they would work for Barbara,” George said) and continues to say exactly what she thinks.

“She is a lot of fun to write, and in part it’s because she has edge,” George said. “What I tell my writing students is, it is always easier to write a character who has edge. It’s much more difficult to write a character who’s generally a nice person. That person, without edge, appears to have nothing for a reader to hang on to … So it’s tough to depict that without ending up with somebody who sounds like Pollyanna. That’s why Havers exists in some way to give me a good time, and she is so damn funny. I never know for sure what she’s going to say, I literally don’t know where she comes from, but she occupies a big space in my brain.”

Now at work on a novel for young adults, George nonetheless has the next Lynley book in the back of her mind, and was able to take a research trip to London and Cornwall last fall. “Basically I’m a literary gumshoe, going out and checking all these different locations for potential stories,” she said. She needs to finish the YA novel before moving on to Lynley, but the 22nd book in the series is already taking shape in her mind: “I have the photographs, and the interviews typed up. I know what the crime is, I know where the story takes place.”

Someday, she’ll wrap up the Lynley/Havers saga, but she’s not planning on it anytime soon. “The when of it is something I’m not sure of,” she said. “But ultimately, before I kick over, I would like to end the series so the reader does have an ending — so they can see that it’s come full circle.”

Discussion with Elizabeth George

George will speak online about “Something to Hide,” in conversation with Seattle novelist Laurie Frankel, at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 11, presented by Third Place Books and Book Passage (California); free; information: thirdplacebooks.com