The brutal, inexplicable death of Inspector Thomas Lynley's wife has left Scotland Yard shocked and searching for answers. Even more horrifying is that the trigger was apparently pulled by a twelve year old boy. Who is he? Where did he come from? And what were the circumstances that led to his final act of desperation?
That story begins on the other side of London, in rough North Kinsington, where the three mixed race, virtually orphaned Campbell children are bounced first from their grandmother then to 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. No one wants to put it into words, but something clearly isn't right with Toby.
Before long, there are signs that Joel himself has problems. A local gang starts harassing him and threatening his brother. To protect his family, Joel makes a pact with the devil-a move that leads straight to the front doorstep of Thomas Lynley.
Reading that again, I think that description is very misleading, but the book is so encompassing, a true description is impossible. It's about fifteen year old Ness, who has had so much brutality brought into her life that she can't begin to deal with it outside of the hate and hurt it's brought her. It's about Joel, a twelve year old boy with the world on his shoulders trying to save and protect everyone he loves. And, it's about the adults around them that, as hard as they try, they can't truly begin to understand what these children face in their worlds, although Ms. George does seem to point out that the ones we least expect are the ones that understand more than we think with characters like Ivan, Joel's eccentric middle aged, clock building magistrate assigned mentor.
Joel hadn't thought of any of this in ages. The sudden memory made his eyes tingle.
Unaccountably, as far as Joel was concerned, Ivan said, "ah. If we knew what the hand of cards was going to be, we'd develop a plan in advance to play them, I dare say. But the devilment of life is that we don't. We're caught out, most often with our trousers round our knees."
Joel wanted to say, "What're you on about?" but he didn't because he knew exactly what Ivan was on about" there one moment and gone the next, walking to the dancing school to fetch Ness from her Saturday lesson, Toby's hand in their dad's and Joel pausing some thirty yards back because in front of the discount store a container of footballs caught his attention, so much so that at first he didn't realize what the four loud pops were that he heard in advance of the shouting.
Joel said in a rush, "I brought these, " and he thrust his poems at Ivan
Ivan took them, mercifully saying nothing further about hands of cards or how one could play them. Instead, he placed the papers on the towel, and he bent over them exactly as he would bend over a clock. He read, and as he did so, he chewed on is mint leaves.
It's an impossible story and does well to explore the other side of things we never see, and has a way of making you wonder what you just might be missing. The ending however, does leave you wanting.
What Came Before He Shot Her