Bookmarks Issue: 

A-What Came Before He Shot HerIn Elizabeth George’s previous novel, With No One As Witness (2005), fans of Scotland Yard detective Thomas Lynley were dealt a terrible blow when Lynley’s beloved wife was murdered by a 12-year-old boy. In this 14th installment of the series, George describes the events leading up to her murder. Kendra Osborne must cope when her mother abandons her sister’s three mixed-race children to her care. Ness, 15, Joel, 11, and Toby, 7, have a host of troubles: a mentally ill mother, a dead father, and life in a tough, working-class London neighborhood. Ness gets involved in drugs as Joel tries to care for his slower younger brother. But when Joel defends his siblings from a thug, he embarks on a fateful act of revenge.
HarperCollins. 548 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 0060545623

Rocky Mountain News 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Events in the lives of Joel and his two siblings unfold with the inevitability and finality of a Greek tragedy in this forceful and important book, which poses many difficult questions but never resorts to easy answers. … This is crime writing at its finest, with an almost painfully sharp view of the world and evil." Jane Dickinson

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The book is Dickensian in length, coming in at nearly 550 pages—though, true to George’s usual standards, with hardly a dull or unnecessary stretch. The book is thoroughly Dickensian in other ways as well, with its lively characters, its palpable rage at the failures of society and its settings in London’s bleakest corners." Adam Woog

Oregonian 3 of 5 Stars
"Her latest book is an equally bold test of her readers. What Came Before He Shot Her dispenses with all of George’s popular series characters, instead plunging the reader into the grimy, scary world that begat that death." Peggy McMullen

Newsday 1.5 of 5 Stars
"George has a great idea, solid prose and the best intentions, but the novel’s pronounced bloat flattens them all under its total weight." Sarah Weinman

Philadelphia Inquirer 0.5 of 5 Stars
"The book is a narrow and claustrophobic portrait of the people who live at the ‘bottom,’ who have no knowledge of or care about the wider world they live in because it has been beaten or squeezed out of them: No interest in education, no opportunity to learn or read, unrealistic expectations, and desperate poverty." Maxine Clarke

Critical Summary

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.