Tuesday, November 20, 2012

WHAT CAME BEFORE HE SHOT HER by ELIZABETH GEORGE



Elizabeth George never disappoints. This one was totally different to all the other books of hers I have read. No Inspector Lynley other than in the dramatically, explosive and horrifying end. The moors reminiscent of many of her books, the quiet countryside all left far behind for a inner city full of squalor, fisticuffs, gang warfare and more.

Ness, Joel and Tobe are abandoned by their grandmother who is deported to Jamaica. Their mother is in a psychiatric unit and their father was killed in a shooting incident. The children have learned not to depend on any adult - no adult has won their trust or confidence and it was heartbreaking to read of how each child coped or rather tried to cope on their own, with sheer bravado and non chalance and a stiff upper lip maintained throughout. The concept of saving face was I thought an Asian idea and here I was totally fazed to see that it is very much part of the story here. Whatever you do, you must not let the other side know the inner workings of family, the skeletons in the closet, who is doing what with whom. These must always be strictly maintained with a curtain drawn over the whole unsavory business so that we continue to maintain a facade of gentility and family unity when the actual fact is actually blood curdling devastation.

The children end up with their aunt Kendra who has no skills in parenting but who feels she must love them  as they are family and they are all she has and vice versa. Trying to bring up a young teenager in this block of flats would be a nightmare for anyone let alone an aunt suddenly thrust with a defiant, sexually active, street smart, foul mouthed niece who feels she must rant, rave and steal if she wants to maintain her position in the world she moves in. We next have Joel , a level headed twelve year old who has his disabled brother as part of his responsibility and knows that this is something that he can never let go.

How circumstances force the entire family of three into a spiral of despair, truancy, robbery, blackmail and murder at the end is how this story comes about. From the opening line of the book we know that the end is not going to be pretty or even one where a murder is very cleanly solved. You know this is going to be a sordid story and sordid it is.

The author keeps you rivetted and I read it through till 4.30 am (and now being unable to keep up in office!). I was alternately horrified, angry, disbelieving that a situation like this can exist but then I have no idea of how a ghetto of this kind operates. My knowledge of gangs is restricted to books only and I was stupefied that twelve year olds could be influenced to behave in the manner that they did. Nothing was beyond them and what one of these characters would do in their twenties (if they live to tell the tale) would be worthy of another book.

There is no systematic looking for clues and interrogation of suspects in the story as the book deals with the very story of how the situation of the "shooting" comes about. As a result it is a story of the life of three sad children who through circumstances only of birth come to the end that they do. The slick investigation of Elizabeth George's novels through the suave Lynley, Havers and Nkata are only brought in at the very, very end and even then it is only Havers and Nkata. Lynley is just a name mentioned.

Strong stuff here but very good reading.

No comments: