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Q&A with Elizabeth George on Dogs and Mysteries
Elizabeth George

She’s been called a master of the English mystery, her books have been adapted by the BBC and, with the publication earlier this year of This Body of Death, she has 17 wildly popular “Inspector Lynley” novels to her credit. However, Elizabeth George is no British blueblood — rather, she’s an Ohio-born, California-raised former schoolteacher with a gift for crafting deliciously long and complex stories populated by strong, welldefined characters, some of whom are of the canine persuasion. Take, for example, Peach, a Longhaired Dachshund who lives with two of the series’ central characters, Simon and Deborah St. James: “Watch out for Peach … she’s wanting food. Fact, she’s always and only wanting food.” When it comes to the behavior of Dachshunds, George has her research subjects nearby — sometimes even underfoot. So, while everyone else was asking questions about her newest book, we thought we’d find out more about the dogs in Elizabeth George’s life.

Bark: In many British mysteries, the murder victim’s body is discovered by a dog. Why do you suppose that convention is so often used?
Elizabeth George: I think it’s due to the fact that an animal’s distress is often more touching to people watching it happen than is a human’s distress. Sounds terrible to put it that way, but if you think about it, our hearts tend to go out more to animals because they can’t express themselves, so we do the expressing for them.

B: In your observation, is British “dog culture” similar to or different from our own?
EG: I think it’s pretty similar, actually. But I say that as someone who lives in the Pacific Northwest, where everyone has a dog and dogs are welcome just about everywhere. The British have always been a dog culture. They walk ’em, love ’em, talk to ’em, and treat ’em like members of the family. I don’t see any difference here. There are places, of course, where the dogs are important work animals — as shepherds, mostly — but even these dogs are treasured. I’ve just come from Italy, however, where dogs are treated completely differently.

B: Tell us about the dog(s) who inspired the fictional Peach, and about Lucy, your current dog.
EG: Peach was inspired by my first Longhaired Dachshund, Brandy. Peach was Brandy’s nickname, so when I created the dog for the St. Jameses, Peach was a natural name to go with. Some people accidentally call her Peaches, but it’s Peach. Brandy was the first dog I ever was owned by. She lived to be 16 years, four months and nine days. I considered myself a successful dog mother to have had her for so many years. She was a snuggle bunny who loved to be held. I wrote eight novels with her sitting in my lap. I have two current dogs, both Dachshunds. Titch is 13 (he was depicted on two previous book covers), and Lucy is six. Titch is a male, full of piss and vinegar and inclined to disobedience. Lucy has recently learned she can kick Titch around, so she does so whenever she gets the chance. They love to be with me when I’m working, and in the evening they sit with me and my husband when we watch our one hour of Netflix.

B: It’s clear that Peach is an important part of the St. James household, and that both Simon and Deborah dote on her. What’s your take on dogs’ roles in our domestic lives?
EG: There is a reason that God is dog spelled backwards. Dogs give us unconditional love and acceptance. They contribute to our sense of tranquility. They lower our blood pressure and lift our spirits. There is no more important animal to a human than a dog.

B: In addition to Peach, you often incorporate dogs into the Lynley books. You not only give them wonderful names — Leo, Beans, Toast, Taboo, Frank, Tess — you also take time to develop them as characters (who fit their names perfectly!). How do you choose the names and, for that matter, the breed types? And what do you feel they add to the stories?
EG: I have to say that I choose the breed on the spur of the moment. I don’t really put a lot of thought into it other than to ask myself what sort of dog this particular character would probably have. I think they add a sense of realism to the stories, and I believe they heighten the humanity of the character to whom they’re attached.

B: In This Body of Death, we learn a lot about one of the characters (Gordon Jossie) through the ways he interacts with his dog. What lay behind your decision to use this device?
EG: Gosh, it just seemed to me that a man with the number of secrets he was carrying would have a dog. It also seemed to me that he would need one “person” in his life who loved him and accepted him, despite who he was in his past.

B: Can you imagine Lynley with a dog? Or is he perhaps more of a cat person?
EG: I’ve never actually thought of Lynley as a dog person or a cat person. Poor man has so much on his plate. But now that you mention it, I think I see an animal on his horizon…

B: We’ve read that you didn’t have pets as a child. When and how did you acquire your first, and was it a dog?
EG: My first pet that I got to choose was a cat, but it wasn’t well and didn’t live long. I was quite young and I don’t remember what it died of. My mom wasn’t a lover of animals, so it was very difficult to persuade her to allow that cat into our lives, and when it died, she was definitely against any other animals; it was years before she allowed another cat. She was afraid of dogs and unfortunately passed this fear on to me for a number of years.

B: Have you ever written anything for your dogs?
EG: Only love letters.

B: Has your dog ever accompanied you to a reading or book signing?
EG: Oh sure. Both dogs have been to book signings. I’d love to say they sit obediently. But then, they’re Dachshunds…

B: In Write Away, you mentioned that a photo of your dog is one of the items you keep on your desk as inspiration and to cheer you up. What do you think of, or feel, when you look at that photo?
EG: I have two pictures of Lucy as a puppy on my desk, one of me holding her and one of my husband holding her. She was an adorable puppy, as you can imagine, and whose heart wouldn’t be filled with love to look at that little face? Mostly, when I look at the pictures, I have to go find her and kiss her little cheekie.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 61: Sept/Oct 2010

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