Elizabeth George's Little Villains 

The author's Inspector Thomas Lynley is back on the job.

The child-abduction case that inspired Elizabeth George's new novel This Body of Death is back in the news these days. When it first made headlines in 1993, it sent shockwaves across Britain because not only was two-year-old James Bulger snatched from a Liverpool-area shopping mall when his mother's back was turned, but his abductors and killers were two eight-year-old boys.

After serving ten years in prison and being released with a new identity, one of those killers was arrested again this March for breaking the terms of his release. Weeks later, he was discovered stockpiling "suicide pills" in his cell. Forcing us to ponder the meanings of evil and innocence, rehabilitation and remorse, the Bulger case is perfect fuel for a George novel.

Set in Great Britain, pairing an aristocratic detective with a shabby, working-class female sidekick, the American author's seventeen Inspector Lynley novels are wildly popular on both sides of the Atlantic. Many were New York Times bestsellers; eleven were adapted for TV by the BBC. In This Body of Death, three bored boys seize a toddler from a McDonald's while his father talks on the phone.

"I write mysteries — or rather crime novels or stories of psychological suspense — because I like the throughline that a crime offers me. The crime and its solution provide a natural structure on which I can hang as much or as little as I like," explained George, who calls herself "entirely self-taught" and who will be at Books Inc. (1344 Park St., Alameda) on Friday, Apr. 30. "I can take the readers' preconceived notions about what a crime novel is and turn those notions on their heads."

George bridles at assertions, especially common in the European press, that her talent is wasted on mysteries. "Novels were designed to entertain, and those of us who wish to keep the art form alive need to keep this in mind," she said. "To aim for lofty literature instead of aiming for a good story with real characters who grow and develop and a setting that's brought to life is to go at the art form, like putting the varnish on the canvas first. I attempt to write a good novel. Whether it is literature or not is something that will be decided by the ages, not by me and not by a pack of critics around the globe."

Living near Seattle, whose wet weather evokes England's, she's tired of being asked why she sets her books in a foreign country. "I first became interested in England in the 1960s when the Beatles made their initial invasion into pop culture. ... I began creating short stories about England while I was still in high school, and when I decided to pursue a career in writing, I never considered setting my novels anywhere except England. ... Why on earth do people find it so weird that I write about England? It worked well enough for Henry James." 7:30 p.m., free. BooksInc.net

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