Elizabeth George

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.

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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.

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