Something to Hide – Elizabeth George

Elizabeth George is one of my favorite authors and this was a fine addition to the Inspector Lynley series. NOTE: this review sort of assumes you have followed this series and know some of the continuing characters. If you haven’t you’ve got 20 books to read that should precede this. The focus in Something to Hide is female genital mutilation (FGM) a practice outlawed most places but still carried out in parts of Nigeria and Somalia, often in a brutal manner and always traumatizing. It is done to “cleanse” a girl and make her more desirable in marriage. George heartbreakingly tells a story of a Nigerian family in Whitechapel headed by a controlling and physically abusive man, Abeo Bankole and his wife, Monifa, who is caught up in her cultural obligation to be totally loyal to her husband — often to extremes. At the center of the terrible tension in the home are Abeo and Monifa’s two children, 18 year old Tani and eight year old Simi. Tani is fiercely protective of his younger sister and he has a secret: He’s dating, which alone goes against all family expectations, and his girlfriend is very English and modern in her behavior, i.e., totally inappropriate. When Tani figures out that his parents are about to do something that might harm Simi, he begins to plan how to protect her, with his girlfriend’s support. Because his father is out of control and furious with his son’s failure to obey him in all things, this makes for a dangerous situation. Meanwhile, Deborah St. James, just off completion of a successful photo book is engaged to take photos of girls and women who have been subjected to FGM or who left home to escape FGM. She connects with an organization founded to protect these girls and both gets involved and must deal with strong resistance to her interference with a community she cannot understand because of her race and wealth.

A too small police unit, tasked with trying to address FGM through community education and criminal enforcement; a doctor who does reconstructive surgery to relieve pain and reduce infections due to FGM and possibly to restore sexual sensation; a mysterious woman who runs a clinic that performs medicalized FGM under anesthesia and with safer procedures; and a Nigerian born Detective Sergeant’s murder bring other angles to the nature of the problem. Along the way, various characters struggle with personal and cultural/social problems. The book deals with issues of racism, raising a severely disabled child at home, cultural clashes, economic clashes, infidelity, several types of relationship problems between coworkers, friends, spouses, parents and children, and lovers… and Nigerian cooking – no really.

My favorite thing outside the main story, which was emotionally powerful and hard and well-told, was that we learned more about Winston Nkata and his family. I loved the Barbara Havers part of this story that included the usual interference with her life from her friend Dee who means well and drives her crazy, but also another friend trying to “help” her and blowing it. I swear I would read these novels just to know what her t-shirts– that she wears to work despite a lot of blowback– will say. There are a number of cats and a dog who play fun roles in the book. What did not work for me is Lynley’s relationship with Daidre and their conversations about where things are going. This fell flat. Daidre’s character is not as beautifully developed and drawn as other characters. She feels two-dimensional. We only know her through Thomas. What motivates her? I’m rooting for them, but right now, they are annoying more than interesting or sad. There were also some issues near the end of the book where some character’s behavior was not believable when it was meant to be. It lacked George’s usual finesse. Still, most of the characters, including new ones, are richly developed and the emotional connection to the reader is deep. George gives us plenty of twists in the plot so that we’re just not sure what anyone believes. In reading this book, George educates us about so much and yet it’s always part of a fascinating story and so you read hundreds of pages in two days and then try to do her justice in a review. Highly recommend.

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