06 October 2007

What Came Before He Shot Her by Elizabeth George

In What Came Before He Shot Her, author Elizabeth George creates to what amounts to a Greek tragedy, as she tells the tale of Joel Campbell, his older sister Nessa and very troubled Toby. It details the lives of these three orphans as they try to survive the terrible world of that surrounds them. It also leads up to the shocking death of Helen Lynly, which happened in her previous novel, With No One As Witness.

Which is good, as the death of Helen was out of the blue, and not central at all to tale told in With No One As Witness. I gathered from her web site that she originally planned to include Joel in that novel, but she felt that there was so much more to tell, that to explain the randomness of Helen’s death you needed to really know what lead up to it.

Once again, George takes great care in setting up the story, the surroundings and language. But at times -like most of her books - she gets bogged down into too much ennui. As an American born writer of these very British crime thrillers, she sometimes overcompensates. The detail of roads, the buildings, the style of design all, at times, leads to pages and pages of fluffy material; things that you really did not need to know. And things that add really nothing to the story.

Her characters are all very well realized and at times you can feel terrible for all the Campbell children. They are lost, and bruised souls caught between heaven and hell, and never sure which way they’ll fall.

Still, as you read, you feel an inevitable pull that George will not conclude this tale with a happy ending. Joel is doomed from the start, as we know he plays a part in the death of Helen Lylnly. Nessa herself seems doomed as well, a teenager angry for many things, but unable or unwilling to admit she needs help. And Toby, adrift in his own little world, lost -perhaps - forever.

It, like most of George’s work, is sad commentary on life, as she chronicles of the lost souls that inhabit her universe. One wants to believe that there is no truth to these stories, but there is also a tingly feeling at the back of you mind that the reality is much more worse than fiction.

And that the life of the Campbell children, while horrible, could -and probably is -worse in the real world.

No comments: