Saturday, September 29, 2007
What Came Before He Shot Her, by Elizabeth George
I categorized this book as a "mystery" but Elizabeth George is heading into new territory here. Another reviewer calls it a "whydunit", a good description.
George has written several books (all of which I have read) about Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers of New Scotland Yard and Lynley's close friends and oft-used consultants. The books are written sequentially, and significant events take place in the primary characters' lives. In other words, they do not stand still.
In the book previous to this one, With No One As Witness, Lynley's pregnant wife is shot. She lingers on life support while Lynley decides what to do about the baby inside her. The shooting is apparently random and was done by two young black men, one very young.
What Came Before He Shot Her is the tale of the 12-year-old who found himself facing Helen Lynley with a gun. The story starts, as the title suggests, well before the act and explains what circumstances led him there.
The story follows his family, a struggling group that consists of Joel, the 12-year-old, Toby, his eight-year-old brother, who is "not right", Vanessa, Joel's older sister, and their Aunt Kendra. The children have survived horrific experiences on the streets of London and in their homes. They have learned the ways of the street and the wisdom of keeping their own counsel. It isn't safe to "grass" on another, no matter how much trouble that other causes.
And so it is that Joel, in a desperate effort to protect his little brother from another boy who has threatened him, heads down a path that gets darker and darker. And so it is that he cannot tell anyone what he is doing.
The bones of the story are clear enough. What really places George in a different category is that she rounds everything out, adds the details and experiences that make the characters truly lifelike and sympathetic.
She devotes much of all of her novels to details that have no bearing on the final outcome, the discovery of the criminal. But over time, over several books, the details add up. So it is with this story. All of the family members have a life and a story to live. We follow each one as he or she tries to make a way in the world. We also follow the efforts of some governmental and private individuals who can see past the obvious and find real people, worth helping, in this family unit. In the end we see what looks like failure, but I'm sure it doesn't end there.
I can't wait to get my hands on the next chapter.