What Came before He Shot Her (Inspector Lynley Series #14)

What Came before He Shot Her (Inspector Lynley Series #14)

by Elizabeth George

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The brutal, inexplicable death of Inspector Thomas Lynley's wife has left Scotland Yard searching for answers. Who is the twelve-year-old boy who pulled the trigger? What were the circumstances that led to his horrific act? That story begins on the other side of London, where the three mixed-race Campbell children are sent to live with their aunt. The oldest, fifteen-year-old Ness, is headed for trouble as fast as her high-heeled boots will take her. That leaves the middle child, Joel, to care for the youngest, Toby. But before long, Joel has his own problems with a local gang. To protect his family, he makes a pact with the devil— a move that leads straight to the front doorstep of Thomas Lynley.

The anatomy of a murder, the story of a family in crisis, What Came Before He Shot Her is a powerful, emotional novel that only the incomparable Elizabeth George could write.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061145919
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/17/2006
Series: Inspector Lynley Series , #14
Edition description: Large Print
Pages: 1040
Sales rank: 639,422
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 2.20(d)

About the Author

Elizabeth George is the New York Times bestselling author of sixteen 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.


Seattle, Washington

Date of Birth:

February 26, 1949

Place of Birth:

Warren, Ohio


A.A. Foothill Community College, 1969; B.A. University of California, Riverside, 1970; M.S. California State University

Read an Excerpt

What Came Before He Shot Her

Chapter One

Joel Campbell, eleven years old at the time, began his descent towards murder with a bus ride. It was a newish bus, a single decker. It was numbered 70, on the London route that trundles along Du Cane Road in East Acton.

There is not much notable on the northern section of this particular route, of which Du Cane Road is but a brief part. The southern section is pleasant enough, cruising near the V & A and past the stately white edifices of Queen's Gate in South Kensington. But the northern part has a list of destinations that reads like a where's where of places in London not to frequent: the Swift Wash Laundry on North Pole Road, H. J. Bent Funeral Directors (cremations or burials) on Old Oak Common Lane, the dismal congeries of shops at the turbulent intersection where Western Avenue becomes Western Way as cars and lorries tear towards the centre of town, and looming over all of this like something designed by Dickens: Wormwood Scrubs. Not Wormwood Scrubs the tract of land circumscribed by railway lines, but Wormwood Scrubs the prison, part fortress and part asylum in appearance, place of unremitting grim reality in fact.

On this particular January day, though, Joel Campbell took note of none of these features of the journey upon which he was embarking. He was in the company of three other individuals, and he was cautiously anticipating a positive change in his life. Prior to this moment, East Acton and a small terrace house in Henchman Street had represented his circumstances: a grubby sitting room and grubbier kitchen below, three bedrooms above, and a patchy green at the front,round which the terrace of little homes horseshoed like a collection of war widows along three sides of a grave. It was a place that might have been pleasant fifty years ago, but successive generations of inhabitants had each put their mark upon it, and the current generation's mark was given largely to rubbish on doorsteps, broken toys discarded on the single path that followed the U of the terrace, plastic snowmen and rotund Santas and reindeer toppling over upon the jutting roofs of bay windows from November till May, and a sinkhole of a mud puddle in the middle of the green that stood there eight months of the year, breeding insects like someone's entomology project. Joel was glad to be leaving the place, even if leaving meant a long plane ride and a new life on an island very different from the only island he'd so far known.

"Ja-mai-ca." His gran didn't so much say as intone the word. Glory Campbell drew out the mai till it sounded the way a warm breeze felt, welcome and soft, with promise gilding its breath. "What you t'ink 'bout dat, you t'ree kids? Ja-mai-ca."

"You t'ree kids" were the Campbell children, victims of a tragedy played out on Old Oak Common Lane on a Saturday afternoon. They were progeny of Glory's elder son, dead like her second son although under entirely different circumstances. Joel, Ness, and Toby, they were called. Or "poor lit'l t'ings," as Glory had taken to referring to them once her man George Gilbert had received his deportation papers and she'd seen which way the wind of George's life was likely to blow.

This use of language on Glory's part was something new. In the time the Campbell children had been living with her—which was more than four years and counting this time around and looking to be a permanent arrangement—she'd been a stickler for correct pronunciation. She herself had been taught the queen's English long ago at her Catholic girls' school in Kingston, and while it hadn't served her as well as she'd hoped when she'd immigrated to England, she could still trot it out when a shop assistant needed sorting, and she intended her grandkids to be able to do some sorting as well, should they ever have the need.

But all that altered with the advent of George's deportation papers. When the buff envelope had been opened and its contents perused, digested, and understood, and when all the legal manoeuvring had been engaged in to prolong if not to thwart the inevitable, Glory had shed over forty years of God-save-the-current-monarch in an instant. If her George was heading for Ja-mai-ca, so was she. And the queen's English wasn't necessary there. Indeed, it could be an impediment.

So the linguistic tone, melody, and syntax morphed from Glory's rather charmingly antique version of Received Pronunciation to the pleasant honey of Caribbean English. She was going native, her neighbours called it.

George Gilbert had left London first, escorted to Heathrow by immigration officials keeping the current prime minister's promise to do something about the problem of visitors overstaying their visas. They came for him in a private car and glanced at their watches while he bade Glory a farewell thoroughly lubricated by Red Stripe, which he'd begun to drink in anticipation of the return to his roots. They said, "Come along, Mr. Gilbert," and took him by the arms. One of them reached into his pocket as if in search of handcuffs should George not cooperate.

But George was happy to go along with them. Things hadn't really been the same at Glory's since the grandkids had dropped on them like three human meteors from a galaxy he'd never quite understood. "Look damn odd, Glor," he'd say when he thought they weren't listening. "Least, the boys do. S'pose the girl's all right."

"You hush up 'bout them," was Glory's reply. Her own children's blood was thoroughly mixed—although less so than the blood of her grandkids—and she wasn't about to have anyone comment on what was as obvious as burnt toast on snow. For mixed blood was not the disgrace it had been in centuries past. It no longer made anyone anathema.

But George blew out his lips. He sucked on his teeth. From the corners of his eyes, he watched the young Campbells. "They not fitting good into Jamaica," he pointed out.

What Came Before He Shot Her. Copyright © by Elizabeth George. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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What Came Before He Shot Her 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 98 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've read most of Elizabeth George's procedurals, and while they may be long, angst-ridden and wordy, they usually deliver well-crafted and genuine characters and decent plots. Not this one. It's a long rambling, shallow exploration of what it means to be poor and different. Totally not a mystery, and also to me, extremely bogus. I've been poor and different, and this ain't it.
GailH More than 1 year ago
Most depressing book I have ever read. It should have been 200 fewer pages.
alice443 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When I began this book -- despite the title -- I really did not understand what I was reading, gradually it dawned on me. I was reading the back story to the death of Helen Lynley. It isn't a mystery or a detective story it is a psychological sociological tale of horror. The story is unremittingly dark and grim. We are introduced to the child who shot Helen and given a taste of his world -- it is not a place that we would want to live -- it is not a rational healthy world. This book is an amazing exploration of the difficulties of living in a completely irrational world. We see a family making horrible decisions that seem pretty darned rational given the dangers and irrationality of their world. It made me think of families that did not leave New Orleans when Katrina struck and my Saudi friend who has few options because she is a woman -- the story allows you to see and feel what it is to be virtually without hope and without help, to feel you have no one to rely on when you are desperately in need of help. It is a horrible experience but an amazing book.
aajay on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Heartbreaking depiction of the hopeless and hapless lives of the underclass in today's Britain (not that it would be all that different in most of big cities of the world). A far cry from the bucolic world of Angela Thirkall, my favorite escape author. One would have to have a heart of stone not to empathize with the plight of Joel and his family. And the tragedy for Lynley hovers on the edge. I was not disappointed that it was not the usual George mystery; she has a right to venture out especially when it results in such a fine book.
Jaie22 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love the Lynley series. But this book, which isn't a police procedural and only tangentially involves the series regulars, outshines the rest and proves George could write in any genre she chose. There are at least two stories for every crime, and it's fascinating to inhabit the one we so rarely see.
macha on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
i confess i wouldn't have picked this one up if i'd known it what it really was: i did look carefully at it first to make sure it was a Linley mystery. and it is; except not really. it's riskier territory. then i stayed up for two nights running till 4am to read it through, so it was certainly riveting, the way she built the story. the characters come so alive, and the reader is dragged (kicking and screaming, in my case) into the narrative. and the sense of dread carries the novel: the way it grows, the way it spreads, the way it matters. until in the end, it makes perfect sense out of what we like to call a senseless crime. in that context, of course, the indictment's aimed at us. but it still works, in that No Way Out way that this kind of societal/psychological novel tracks.
swl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had the very unusual experience of having to read this book very slowly because it was simply so wrenching. I've read all EG's books, including the precursor/sequel to this one, so I knew where it was going, and as EG built her characters as skillfuly as she always does, it was almost too painful to know that they were all doomed. In her past books there have been characters whose demise I regretted, and she certainly is gifted at painting her story people into hopeless corners, building tension all the while, but never like this time. I don't know if this is a good or bad thing, and at times while reading this I thought it was both.I saw EG speak a couple of months ago and she said that she has received a LOT of criticism about this book and her decision to depart from the usual cast of characters and also to go into omniscient narration. I carried this latter thought with me as I read; I thought she pulled it off brilliantly and her defense that she had always wanted to challenge herself by trying it made sense to me. She also mentioned she had been planning to kill off a major character for a while. Well, I guess it's the bane of the series writer; to stay fresh things must shift and tilt. Frankly I felt the loss of the doomed family in this book far more deeply than I did the loss of that other character (trying not to be a spoiler).Overall, it wasn't my favorite EG of all, but it was certainly fine and haunting. Can't wait to see what she writes next.
nsrn More than 1 year ago
George's writing is always exceptional. That being said, I was thoroughly depressed when I completed this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am so surprised by the number of negative reviews of this book. I was blown away by this book. To be able to tell this complex story without offending but offering background information as to what might propel someone in a certain trajectory, in this case a negative one is simply a work of sheer genius. This book stayed with me long after i read it. The way elizabeth george was able to get me into the minds and lives of her characters so i could see why they did what they did was an unbelievable feat for any author. This book is a must read.
LeslieDK More than 1 year ago
This is a very well-constructed novel. The suspense is generated with the title: you don't know who "he" is nor do you know "her". All characters are well-developed. The plot is interwoven beautifully. The dialogue takes only a few moments to catch the rhythm: dysfunctional Black family in London with Jamaican ties. Great story. Great read. I don't usually like the so-called detective series. This is in a class by itself. I have been passing it along to all my friends and family.
nprfan1 More than 1 year ago
Wow. That was my first reaction on finishing this incredible book.

Like many other fans of George's Lynley/Havers series, I was shocked when she killed off Thomas Lynley's wife Helen for no apparent reason. This story doesn't provide a reason - indeed, there are several questions left unanswered - but what it does provide is a detailed and searing look into the background of the supposed shooter. And yes, I said "supposed". I'm not going to insert a full spoiler here; I'll just leave you with that tantalizing hint.

What this story also provides is proof - as if any were needed - that George can venture into fields other than mysteries and (British) police procedurals and still spin a ripping good yarn. In some respects the story of Joel Campbell is rather typical. He's the product of a broken home, with a mother in the psych ward, a little brother who's not altogether there, and an older sister who is nowhere near as violent as Aileen Wuornos but whose sexual proclivities make Wuornos look like a pansy.

The tale starts with the children's grandmother dropping them off at their aunt's flat - she's running away from them and from her responsibilities as their unofficial guardian, and thus begins the tale of their downfall.

There are, as I said, some unanswered questions. We see the killing of Helen Lynley from Joel's point of view, but we still don't understand the why. It's implied that there is some kind of connection between Thomas Lynley and the criminal known as the Blade, but George doesn't explain or give any hint as to the nature of that connection and as far as I remember the Blade isn't mentioned in the "prequel" ("With No One as Witness").

Perhaps she'll provide an explanation someday, but this is still a well-written and extremely interesting look into life on the other side.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is my first book I've read by the author - but I should say I only partially read it. The plot was good, but I couldn't get past trying to translate the bad grammer. I finally said "enough" and put the book down. I think the look into the lives of the poor and dysfunctional relationships in famlies shows the starkness of society and had a worthy plot and I'm not turning a blind eye to the situation - I just couldn't get through the book. Maybe I'll try at a later time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had previously read some of Elizabeth George's previous books and had gotten a little bored with them. I read in a review of her current book that the wife was murdered and saw this book in the discount pile at B&N and figured it was worth a try. I hate when people write in dialect but the story just pulled me in. Joel just kept spiraling down and down and it broke your heart that children need to do so much on their own. In a perfect world no one wants to read such depressing writing for entertainment but these characters were so real and George brought their thought processes to life. Everyone needs to see how the other half lives and thank your lucky stars that your children live safer lives than this. But, her ending paragraph was too vague for me. Since Joel didn't pull the trigger I wanted him and his family to be saved. Somehow. A happy ending.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I started this book I was afraid it was going to be a boring English story filled with lots of dull parts like many English books seem to be. Was I wrong? You bet I was! What Came Before He Shot Her is a very long book but Elizabeth George keeps the reader very interested from page one through to the end. The story follows a dysfunctional family through a part of their lives mainly taking place in the London area. It takes you through good and bad people and neighborhoods. It starts when Joel Campbell is eleven years old. Joel, his little mentally challenged brother, Toby who was seven, and a sister, Ness, a physically well-developed teenager, were literally ¿dropped off¿ at their Aunt Kendra¿s house. They had been living with their grandmother but grandma decided she wanted no part of raising these kids. She wanted to go to Jamaica to live with her boyfriend. The children¿s actual mother was in a home for psychiatric care. She had her sensible moments but they disappeared fast. The grandmother had no qualms leaving the three children on the doorstep of their aunt and taking off with a promise she knew she would never keep: of having the children join her and the boyfriend in Jamaica at some future time. The story follows the children when they are found by their aunt around and near her house as she tries to assimilate what has occurred. Eventually she knows she wants to try to take care of them but she has no experience for doing so and no idea how to start. She registers them in various schools according to their ages, with Toby going to a special school. Joel has to take charge of Toby coming and going to school on his way to his own school. Ness goes to school when she wishes to go. Ness and Joel get into bad company and get into more trouble than a rabbit being chased by a fox while Toby sometimes gets picked up by Joel and sometimes he does not know what to do to get home. The antics that unsupervised children of these ages can get into present too much opportunity to Ness and Joel. Ness is very over-sexed and does all she can to show this to all the others in the area, many times going too far! Joel¿s troubles compound and multiply many times over as he meets some boys that are not a good influence for any human. The troubles the children get into, followed by the created chaos that Aunt Kendra falls into when she finds a younger boyfriend, become a part of the puzzle. She and the boyfriend do not set any type of good example for the kids and they only get worse, if that could be possible. The story might sound very involved but it is easy to follow the way the author writes. She blends various London areas and is sure the reader knows what type of a neighborhood the story line is in as she goes forward. The police, foster childcare, magistrates, and several gangs come into play, all of which make this book delightful, and certainly not dull. Several surprises take place throughout the book making the reader wrong in any assumptions.
AnonMI More than 1 year ago
From the first word on the first page to the last word on the last page, it read more like a Greek tragedy than a usual E. George mystery. I simply could not put the book down and spent all day reading it. This is one story she has written that I will never forget.
reannon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a train-wreck of a book. Because of the book before this one, we know the tragedy that this book ends with. It is part of the Thomas Lynley series, but the main characters in that series are only briefly in this book, which explains how a seemingly senseless tragedy happened.The main characters are three siblings, Ness, Joel, and Toby. Their father is dead, their mother in a mental home, and their grandmother abandons them to go home to Jamaica. She leaves them with their aunt, Kendra. Kendra is around 40, widowed once and divorced once, working in a charity shop and trying to get a business going as a massage therapist. She has never had children, and two of these three are particularly difficult to deal with. Ness is fifteen, refuses to go to school and seems interested only in sex and drugs and the occasional petty theft. Toby is eight, with severe developmental disorders and a way of retreating into an imaginary world. The burden of caring for Toby mostly falls onto 12 year old Joel, the responsible one, the one who finds an unexpected talent for poetry in himself. But Joel makes an enemy, and the enemy targets Toby, who is so very vulnerable. Joel is willing to go to any lengths to protect Toby, and that is what leads him into the fatal error.This is a hard book to read. It is, in part, about how grinding a life of poverty is, the burden and hopelessness of it. It is also in part about the errors that can be made with perfectly good intentions but a panic-inducing level of desperation. The characters at first seem unlikeable, and one doesn't want to care about them, knowing there is a terrible ending, but one learns to care. The author seems to as well, as her voice breaks through the narrative more than in her other books. She'll say, for example, something like "and that would not be his only mistake", things that jar the reader out of the narrative somewhat. In the end, it is a compelling but uncomfortable book, a picture of unalterable despair.
debavp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An incredible work. I think it's a very realistic and accurate of how a very simple event in an unfortunate's life can destroy so many lives with a rippling effect. In this instance, if only one person had acted a bit sooner, or a bit kinder, or a bit stronger, the tragic outcome could have been avoided. You can't place unequivocal blame here because everyone tried in their own misguided ways to help. My only complaint was that the why, as in why did the Blade choose Helen as the victim--was there a connection between him and the serial killer, was it a favor, or did it have nothing to do with him and Blade was settling his own score with Lynley himself? That why wasn't answered.
kateiyzie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Excellent page-turner--each page was interesting. There was irritating lower class British patois to slow you down tho. Three children, dumped on their aunt's porch try to survive as does the aunt, her boyfriend and various other, mostly interesting characters. England sounds violent, poor and horrible! (Sorry)
KPW on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Don't think this was the best choice for my first Elizabeth Berg book. Grew weary of the British slang. The ending was not what I expected (which was good, I guess) but the book was way too long & the characters were not endearing.
rcooper3589 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I picked this out of my pile of books prepared for a good Lynley mystery. I was saddened when I realized that this wouldn't be one, but a study on a London family- specifically the 12 year-old boy who shot Lynley's wife. I quickly warmed to the story though and enjoyed it very much. I liked how true the book rang- Ness claims to know the world inside and out, however, she couldn't be more naive. She is not as tough as she'd like to be- or thinks she is either. Poor Joel takes on more than he can- with no help from his sister or Aunt. I wanted to jump into the book, give him a hug and tell him it is okay. I loved how George revealed pieces of the kids history throughout the novel- small tidbits here and there, slowly revealing more and more. I think the best part of this book is that all the characters are well-rounded and you really get inside of their heads- we see the sadness, fear and love a struggling family deals with.FAVORITE QUOTES: Like water that seeks its own level, misfits recognize their brothers even when they do so unconsciously. // "I'm the type one generally refers to as an English eccentric. Quite harmless and engaging to have at a dinner party where Americans are present and declaring themselves desperate to meet a real Englishman." // Joel shrugged: the adolescent boy's answer to every question he didn't want to answer, a bodily expression of the eternal whatever voiced by teenagers in hundreds of languages on at least three continents and countless islands pebbled across the Pacific.
kd9 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It is obvious that Elizabeth George did a lot of research about the slums of London and the police and social services units that serve them. Unfortunately she wants to put all of this knowledge right in front of you, making the the book twice as long as it should be. The novel is a predictable account of the decline and fall of three abandoned children with a family history of insanity to cope with. It is well written, but unremittingly depressing.
KarenAJeff on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The brutal, inexplicable death of Inspector Thomas Lynley's wife has left Scotland Yard searching for answers. Who is the twelve-year-old boy who pulled the trigger? What were the circumstances that led to his horrific act? That story begins on the other side of London, where the three mixed-race Campbell children are sent to live with their aunt. The oldest, fifteen-year-old Ness, is headed for trouble as fast as her high-heeled boots will take her. That leaves the middle child, Joel, to care for the youngest, Toby. But before long, Joel has his own problems with a local gang. To protect his family, he makes a pact with the devil— a move that leads straight to the front doorstep of Thomas Lynley. The anatomy of a murder, the story of a family in crisis, What Came Before He Shot Her is a powerful, emotional novel that only the incomparable Elizabeth George could write.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was different in that you followed along with the lives of a family as if you were looking through a window. The book ties in with the previous book by Ms George ("With no one as witness") but the ending was a little disappointing to me. I was expecting a continuation of the whole story line and the investigation that might have ensued after the crime. When the book ended the way it did, I felt like there was a hole that needed filled. I love her books and began with her first book. I love her characters (I haven't seen the BBC series as of yet, but eventually I will) and I'm hoping the next book "Careless in Red" will will have me giving her 5 stars again. Unfortunate, I would say this book fell just a tad short.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Do not read this book thinking it is a who done it! It has no mystery and no detective. It is a quality book along the lines of native son. As long as you know what you are getting into and you enjoy a realistic raw tragic story about very sad and horribly dysfunctional people, this is worthy of your time. Not a mindless fun exciting ride and not meant to be. It will however open your eyes and your heart and perhaps answer a few questions you may have had as to why some people do what they do when it seems so senseless and self destructive. Will likely make you thankful if you live a safe comfortable life!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago