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What Came Before He Shot Her
By Elizabeth George

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What Came Before He Shot Her

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What Came Before He Shot Her
By Elizabeth George
Harper Large Print Edition, 2006
Distributed by Thorndike Press
ISBN 10: 0-06-114591-2
ISBN 13: 978-0-06-114591-9
Genre: Mystery

Reviewed by Auggie Moore - January 11, 2007

Elizabeth George is in fine form with her new offering, What Came Before He Shot Her. In George's last book, With No One as Witness, Inspector Thomas Lynley's pregnant wife was brutally murdered. In What Came Before He Shot Her takes up the story, but rather than focusing on the murder investigation she turns her pen to painting an intimate and gritty portrait of the killer's family and the events that led to him gunning down Helen. The apparent killer is Joel Campbell, an eleven-year-old boy who has grown up in a dysfunctional family.

The bulk of this book is devoted to the events leading up to the murder, and it meticulously examines how life went so wrong for the three Campbell children: Joel, Ness, and Toby. After their father was killed and their mother institutionalized, the three children are sent to live with their grandmother, and later with their Aunt Kendra who would have preferred not to have had the children thrust upon her. The book details the problems that this damaged family must deal with. Problems that include emotional problems, living in North Kensington, a less than savory section of London, gangs, promiscuity, and drugs.

What Came Before He Shot Her is a gripping and very dark psychological drama that takes a hard look at the plight faced by so many fractured families. Often, as in this case, their problems are compounded by their living conditions. In this case, the Campbell children find themselves living in a dangerous environment, where Joel finds it necessary to take up with gang members in order to protect his other family members. As events transpired, it was an unwise choice for all involved, and a choice which would lead directly to the death of Helen Lynley.

If you are expecting a typical Inspector Lynley mystery, look elsewhere. Lynley hardly makes an appearance in this novel and Barbara Havers and Winston Nkata are nearly nonexistent. This is not much of a mystery. Rather, it is blatant social commentary wrapped around a chilling story. This is an emotionally charged book that will leave you sad, there is not a glimmer of hope in this book, and it is not a book about redemption. It is most assuredly not a book to read if you are in a low mood to begin with. As well, large swatches of the dialogue are written in various dialects and peppered liberally with slang. While this adds some flavor to the book, I felt that she overdid the dialects a bit and did not use much of the slang in a realistic manner. Otherwise, this was an excellent, albeit unusual, Elizabeth George novel that fully illustrates her literary talents.


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