Author of the Month

Name: Elizabeth George

First Novel: The Great Deliverance

Most Recent Book: What Came Before He Shot Her

'… a highly convincing and totally absorbing read.'

Vanessa, Joel and Toby are unceremoniously dumped on their Aunt Kendra by their grandmother who intends to join her boyfriend in Jamaica. Each of the children deals with this abandonment in different ways. The teenage Vanessa goes off the rails through drink and drugs and by hooking up with a violent boyfriend, known as ‘Blade’. Seven year-old Toby retreats into an inner world where no one can touch him and his elder brother, Joel, protects him. But it is Joel, despite the attentions of a benevolent mentor, Ivan, and a talent for writing poetry, who finds it increasingly difficult to escape the world that he is in.

All of the children’s lives are entwined and connected to the characters that dominate the world of the West London housing estates. Not all of the influences are malign.

The novel features adults who attempt to provide a stabilising influence on the children, from Kendra’s lover, Dix, to Vanessa’s community service supervisor ,Majidah. Yet, Joel is gradually drawn into the sphere of ‘Blade’ and his friend Cal Hancock, ending with devastating results – the shooting of Helen Lynley.

This novel is a departure for Elizabeth George in that it details, as the title suggests, the events that lead up to the shooting of Helen Lynley in George’s previous novel ‘With No-One As Witness’. The book isn’t specifically a crime novel and George never attempts to conceal what the book is tying to do –chronicle the life of Joel Campbell. But the novel is stunningly well written and George manages to keep the reader totally hooked throughout the book.

The story of Vanessa, in particular, is brilliantly written, from her initial destructive friendship with fellow teenagers to her attempts to rehabilitate herself by studying millinery at the local college.

What is most striking about the novel is George’s mastery of describing ordinary daily life in West London. She expertly captures the stifling environment of living in confined housing, the lack of privacy contributing to everyone’s woes. Most of the characters are aware of the hopelessness of their current situation but powerless to change their lives, even with external help. As the novel reaches its ultimate conclusion it is almost unbearable to read, as Joel inexorably slides into criminal behaviour despite his talents. This novel is a highly convincing and totally absorbing read.

Reviewed by: S.W.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) How would you describe your books?
I would describe my books as novels of psychological suspense with a strong literary bent to them.
2) You have an excellent feel of life on London's housing estates. Have you ever experienced these areas?
I do all my research on location, so every place mentioned in the novel was a place I visited with the exception of the crack house, which is imagined.
3) What is your favourite crime read of all time?
Probably Mystic River by Dennis Lehane.
4) Would you describe yourself as a Crime fan and if so, which authors do you most admire and why?
I wouldn’t describe myself as a crime fan. I read very eclectically. My favorite crime writer, however, is probably Margery Allingham.
5) Your books are sweeping novels that focus on the dynamics of the people within the story and, often, not just the crime itself. What made you wish to expand on the characters rather than just plot?
I made a commitment to character from the first. I am interested in novels of character as a reader as well as a writer. Novels of plot only are rather boring to me.
6) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
Mystic River. Magnificent.
7) When writing ‘With No-One As Witness’ did you decide at the outset that Lynley’s wife, Helen would be killed - or did the idea develop as you were writing the book?
I knew from the first that she would be killed.
8) What made you decide to focus your latest book on the story behind the boy who shot Helen Lynley?
It has originally been part of With No One as Witness, but I realized early on that Joel's story was too big to do adequate justice to as a subplot of that novel. It was then that I determined I would write it as a separate novel, a prequel to the book in which Helen dies.
9) Will the next novel star Lynley and Havers? Have you made any plans for their next novel?
I am over 700 pages into the next novel. Lynley and Havers are both in it. It takes place in Cornwall.
10) The BBC adaptations for the Lynley novels have been well received. Are you pleased with the results and are the main actors as you envisaged the characters?
For what they are, I think the BBC shows are fine although my preference would have been that they do more than merely look at the crime since the novels themselves are about far more. The main characters are not at all as I imagine Lynley and Havers, but their performances are lovely.
11) Without giving away the plot, which book included your favourite plot twist of all time?
This would definitely be In the Presence of the Enemy.