Review of “Something to Hide” by Elizabeth George 

This is the 21st book in the detective series featuring Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, both of New Scotland Yard. The usual Detective Chief Supervisor, Isabelle Ardery, was on personal leave, so Lynley was acting in that capacity until she returned – presumably sober and ready to work.

This story begins with the death of Detective Sergeant Teo Bontempi. Teo had been working undercover, calling herself Adaku Obiaka, to try to expose a clinic performing female genital mutilation (FGM) for Africans in London – in particular Nigerians and Somalis – who wanted to have their daughters “purified.” It was difficult to find these pop-up clinics and put a stop to them because both the perpetrators and clients were aware the practice was illegal and they were careful not to expose their activities. Most of the plot revolves around the clandestine practice of FGM.

FGM means creating an almost complete closure of the vaginal orifice by cutting and closing the labia to create a skin seal. A small opening remains for the passage of urine and menstrual blood. When those who have had the procedure (performed as early in life as possible) marry, a partial opening is made to enable sexual intercourse. In some areas in the West, surgical infibulation is offered, which is less risky and painful than traditional forms of infibulation (e.g., by box cutter). Unsanitary and unprofessional methods of FGM can result in abscesses, poisoning of the blood, bladder infections, cysts, HIV, and of course, pain from intercourse. But FGM was not called mutilation by the women either performing it or having it, nor did they use the technical term “infibulation.”

FGM is done almost always by women to women, to increase the female’s value to a man. It ensures chastity by denying pleasure to women from sexual intercourse, which will mean to a man that the woman will not stray. (Straying by men is of course not thought to be a problem.) FGM increases the “sale” value of potential bride, who will be considered to be the “property” of her husband.

Women who have undergone FGM at some point and then move to (or already live in) Western cultures where it is looked upon with horror tend to feel shame, rather than anger. Teo, who had been infibulated as a child, felt both. Thus she had a strong personal interest in helping to root out the practice.

One of the visitors to the clinic Teo had under observation was Monifa Bankole, a Nigerian mother who came with her 8-year-old daughter Simisola, called Simi, to make a downpayment for the procedure. Monifa had grown up to believe that the purpose of a woman’s life was to serve the males to whom they were bound through marriage:

“Being cut meant being cleansed. Being cleansed meant being pure. Being pure meant being marriageable. Monifa could no more change this than could she change the order of the months of the year.”

Monifa knew the English could not understand Nigerian cultural imperatives, and wanted to comply with her husband Abeo’s demands. Like other Nigerian men, he was not willing to marry a woman who had not been cut, and wanted his daughter to fetch a good bride price.

Simi’s older brother, Tanimola, or Tani, was 18, and did not believe in the “old ways” from Nigeria. The fact that Abeo was physically abusive didn’t help cement Tani’s loyalty to his father. When Tani found out from Simi – sworn to secrecy by her mother but too excited to comply – that she was going to have a “grand celebration” to mark her entry into womanhood, and when Tani figured out this meant being cut, he was outraged, and determined to protect Simi. But those who believed in FGM were just as determined to see it carried out.

These threads coalesce, broken up by intermittent forays into the private lives of Lynley and Havers, and resolve with a few twists at the end.

Evaluation: Elizabeth George is not known for pithy books, but for the most part her disquisitions include interesting character studies. Moreover, the slow unfolding of truth in her books seems much more realistic than what happens in faster-paced novels. Fans of the series will be gratified to catch up with the usual cast of characters after a 4-year writing hiatus.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2022

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1 Response to Review of “Something to Hide” by Elizabeth George 

  1. Jeanne says:

    I loved this series up until What Came Before He Shot Her and then I stopped reading them. Interesting to hear she’s taken a topical turn with the series.

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