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What Came Before He Shot Her Mass Market Paperback – August 28, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Bestseller George (With No One as Witness) departs from the usual investigative nuts and bolts of her Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers mystery thrillers with this searing examination of the lives of one horribly dysfunctional family and their immigrant London milieu. Switching uncomfortably at times from dialogue in a rough patois to exposition in a language both formal and sociological, George delivers a stinging indictment of a society unable to respond effectively to the needs of its poorer citizens. Kendra Osborne, a 40-year-old woman with modest ambitions and plans to achieve them, has no idea how to cope when her mother "dumps" her sister's three children on her doorstep and heads for Jamaica. Fifteen-year-old Ness, 11-year-old Joel and seven-year-old Toby each have a wealth of problems exacerbated by their mixed-race heritage. It's no accident that George refers to Dickens on the first page of this earnest but perhaps overly didactic novel, which focuses on the burdens borne by Joel as he's swept by forces he can neither understand nor control into a fatal encounter. 8-city author tour. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Scotland Yard detective Thomas Lynley is all but missing from this novel, and critics aren't sure what to make of his absence as well as that of most of the other popular series characters (only two of Lynley's police sidekicks appear—as minor walk-ons). The majority of critics cite this psychological crime novel as a deeply disturbing and unrelenting, yet illuminating, portrayal of a dysfunctional family and of the ways its members can go tragically astray. Two reviewers, however, cited a disconnected narrative, an overly complicated plot, too much detail, and a bleak, hopeless tone as major faults of the novel. There are, of course, no surprises about how the novel ends: Elizabeth George has already told that story in With No One As Witness.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 722 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (August 28, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060545631
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060545635
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 4.7 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (398 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,066,318 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Elizabeth George is the New York Times bestselling author of fourteen novels of psychological suspense, one book of nonfiction, and two short-story collections. Her work has been honored with the Anthony and Agatha awards, the Grand Prix de LittÉrature PoliciÈre, and the MIMI, Germany's prestigious prize for suspense fiction. She lives in Washington State.

Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

75 of 78 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on October 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover
"A wanton act of destruction" --- no, not a murder as such, but the way one of Elizabeth George's outraged readers described the unhappy ending of WITH NO ONE AS WITNESS, her second-to-last book: Helen, the adored pregnant wife of George's policeman hero, Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley, is gunned down on the doorstep of her London house. Mystery lovers are often habituated to tidy, let-justice-be-done denouements; sacrificing Lynley's nearest and dearest evidently violated some unspoken taboo.

When Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes (he was weary of turning out stories about the eccentric detective), his admirers were so upset that he had to bring Holmes back from the dead. George, in contrast, doesn't seem inclined to appease her fans: Instead, she takes an even bigger chance in her new book, WHAT CAME BEFORE HE SHOT HER, telling the story behind Mrs. Lynley's murder.

The apparent culprit is 12-year-old Joel Campbell, a mixed-race boy from North Kensington --- a neighborhood where the police are not heroes but enemies; where gangs rule, drugs and sexual violence are endemic, and there is a constant struggle to survive. Joel and his two siblings --- Vanessa, his older, troubled sister, and Toby, a boy who seems to live in his own private world --- are all but orphaned (their father is dead, their mother in a psychiatric hospital; they've been abandoned by their grandmother and fobbed off on an aunt). Caught between painful memories of a one-time happy childhood and the perils of their current existence, they lurch helplessly down the road to disaster. Lynley, by the way, does not even appear in the book, and his police sidekicks, Barbara Havers and Winston Nkata, have only a walk-on --- another probable source of distress for George's devotees.
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35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Linda Pagliuco VINE VOICE on July 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
WCBHSH is not a Lynley/Havers novel. Once past that stumbling block, this novel deserves a fair look at it for what it is. Though reviewed as a scruffy, dark novel about a dysfunctional family, there really is no family present in this plot, not in the real sense of the word. Rather, it is about three psychologically fragile children trying to survive in a world that has given them nothing but life itself. Dumped on their aunt's doorstep in one of London's most dangerous neighborhoods, they cannot rely upon her to provide much more than food and shelter. Love, trust, and a sense of safety are qualities that they never had a chance to develop. None of them is capable of accepting a helping hand even when repeatedly offered. Eleven year old Joel is the rock of this little trio, and although he tries valiantly to protect his brother and sister, and even his woefully inadequate "aunty", naturally he is doomed to fail. The title of this book is literal - it is the story of what happened to this child as he is coerced into doing things that are abhorrent to him and that destroy his soul long before he can reach adulthood. At bottom, this is an existential piece that can open the reader's eyes to the harsh circumstances that mold the lives of so many underprivileged, neglected children. It is the anatomy of a crime. It is a look into the mind of the "criminal". What Came Before He Shot Her is not fun, but it is skillfully crafted. It's a shame to miss out on a very good novel because of the absence of Lynley.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By suzyf921 on April 20, 2008
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I picked up this book (probably the 6th or 7th E. George book for me) and I read it about 8 months ago. I don't think I'm exaggerating to say that I have thought about the characters - Joel especially - every day since. The characters do live depressing lives, and are trapped - and they are far from the upper class characters that George often portrays. And for those looking for a nice "English" bucolic setting, this is not it. But Joel, the 11 year old protagonist, is a credible and even lovable character, and his journey from protective older brother to unwilling murderer is believable in the setting. This is one facet of modern day Britain - not pretty, not quaint, barely even civilized. I read it as a piece of sociology and an insight into the deprived lives of poor people in west London.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Leigh Costain on October 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I knew when I picked up this book that it didn't have the usual cast of characters, but I trust Elizabeth George and was willing to give it a try.

My complaint isn't the "lecturing" about the results of such intractable societal ills as racism, poverty, and child abuse. It's that the characters of this book fell short. I found them one-dimensional for the most part. Ness was nothing but angry. Joel was nothing but anxious. Toby was nothing but helpless. And the plot was too simple...just pile the bad acts onto angry, anxious and helpless and you get "inevitable."
These kids were propelled by events, each acting 100% predictably in all cases. There didn't seem to be any real understanding of the unique character each kid must have.

Real life so often provides more subtle turning points. Real life is comprised of good and bad, both in people and situations. This book was all bad, like "A Series of Unfortunate Events" without the humor.

It felt lacking in humanity. There's a point when the aunt, Kendra, bemoaning her niece's choices, muses that sometimes kids manage to transcend tragic beginnings. This could have been a fantastic book had this been explored. This is the fascination in lives that go so wrong...where were the choices made? The points of no return? What's the difference in the personality that survives? Instead, we see characters that merely react to tragedy after tragedy. I believe that these kids (and Elizabeth George) are capable of more.
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