This is one of those episodes that totally changed my mind about a book. I initially didn’t like the book, and didn’t bother finishing it. But chatting with crime novelist Aime Austin changed my perspective entirely. The second we finished talking, I immediately ordered the first book in the series, so I could get the whole picture. Also, if you are a library person, you are going to love hearing about how Aime relies on her local librarians to curate a reading list for her and her son.
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Books discussed in this episode:
What Came Before He Shot Her by Elizabeth George
(This book is 14th, in the Inspector Lynley series, which begins with A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George. Though as Aime explained to me, “What Came Before He Shot Her” is more of a side story than a murder mystery in the series.)
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Inspector Gamache Series by Louise Penny
The Dublin Murder Squad Series by Tana French
The Witch Elm by Tana French
The Searcher by Tana French
When He’s Married to Mom: How to Help Mother-Enmeshed Men Open Their Hearts to True Love and Commitment by Kenneth M. Adams, Ph.D.
Promising Young Woman
Discussed in our Patreon Conversation:
(Note: If you shop using my affiliate links, a portion of your purchase will go to me, at no extra expense to you. Thank you for supporting indie bookstores and for helping to keep the Best Book Ever Podcast in business!)
.Aime Austin on “What Came Before He Shot Her” by Elizabeth George
Hello, Bookworms, welcome to the Best Book Ever, the podcast where we talk about your favorite books. I’m your host, Julie Strauss, and today I’m so pleased to talk to Aime Austin. Aime is the author of the Casey Cort crime fiction series. Casey is always in trouble and Aime’s full-time job is to rescue her. Fortunately, Aime’s got experience. She’s practiced family and criminal law in Cleveland, Ohio for several years. When Aime is not rescuing Casey from herself, she’s hosting the podcast “A Time to Thrill,” raising her son, or traveling between Budapest and Los Angeles. This is one of those episodes where the conversation changed my entire perception of the book. The second I finished talking to Aime, I started reading it again. I know you’re going to love hearing her tell me why “What Happened Before He Shot Her” by Elizabeth George is the Best Book Ever.
Whether they read a book a day or a book a year. I love asking people to tell me about their favorite books. And that includes you dear listener. What’s your all-time favorite? Your desert island classic? What about the childhood favorite that you still know by heart? The mystery that took you by surprise, the biography that changed your way of thinking, or the book club favorite that you can’t stop thinking about? I’m looking for guests from all walks of life to talk to me about it all kinds of books here on the show. Go to my website, Juliewroteabook.com and click on the button that says “Be a Guest on the Best Book Ever.” I’m really looking forward to talking to you! Now, back to the show.
Julie Strauss: Hi Aime. Welcome to the Best Book Ever podcast.
Aime Austin: Thank you so much for having me. I love to talk about books.
JS: Oh, it’s my favorite thing to talk about. So good. We’re here for the day. Your bio says that your previous job as a family and criminal lawyer. I can see how that affects your writing life as a crime novelist, but does it change how you read? Do you lean toward reading murdery things?
AA: I’m really bad at having a preference. I mean, I’ve gone to reader events as an author, and I’m always so surprised that people are like, I only read like Regency historical. I’m like, wow. Okay. Um, and they’re like, what do you read? I’m like, whatever comes in the door, like literally I have no discernments. Somebody just sent me a book and I’m like, okay, I’ll read it. I read whatever I read. I don’t read sci-fi and I don’t read fantasy. I have read them, but they’re not a thing that I read. So it’s probably split between crime fiction, romance, and women’s fiction. I love women’s fiction. And, um, I don’t read literary fiction as much as I used to. I also heavily read nonfiction. So about 50% of what I read is nonfiction as well.
JS: Do you not read literary fiction intentionally or you just haven’t gotten around to it lately?
AA: I think it’s intentional because I think the older I get, the more I enjoy genre fiction and I enjoy a plot. The last time I read literary fiction, was it Barbara Kingsolver? I can’t even remember. The Secret Life of Bees, or something. It’s been a while. And I thought this writing is lyrical and the words are beautiful. And I love all there is about the writing, but what I really want is a plot. Like I really want something to happen. I want a very plot-driven book or character-driven or emotion-driven. And so I’m looking for a certain experience now in reading to be transported into somebody’s, to be honest, kind of crazy world that I don’t exist in. Because I’m not going to have all this drama, and there’s no murders in my life. Like, it can’t be that crazy. I can’t live that way, but I want to experience that. It’s like, Oh, he had an affair and I get all angry. And like, I can’t believe in, you’re not going to dump him. He has a second wife. Did you know he has a second wife? It’s just the outrage! I can’t believe your boss is treating you that way. All you’re trying to do is your job. And so all of that, I enjoy. But I do enjoy crime fiction as well. Although I mainly read police procedurals versus reading, I guess, legal thrillers. I’m more interested in catching. The psychological machinations of figuring out why a person would commit that kind of crime. So I don’t read like serial killer novels or psychopath or sociopath because they don’t have a good reason because they’re just sociopathic or psychopathic. I’m more interested in somebody who’s like, you injured me 30 years ago and now I’m exacting this revenge or whatever it is. I want to know why they did the thing they did. It’s so fascinating to me now.
JS: Given your background, do you get hung up on the technical details? Cause I don’t have any legal or crime backgrounds so I can read this and go, Oh, okay. He solved a murder in 10 minutes. Yeah, sure. That sounds right.
AA: Except for in TV, yes, because TV can’t be real, pacing. It can’t work that way. However, in books, no. So I only read authors who are fairly accurate in their descriptions, because that’s important to me. So no offense to, like, Agatha Christie, but, you know, I don’t do the house murders where we’re all sitting around and then, you know, we come to the determination. I need something more where they have to go out and they have to meet people and the drug dealer gave him this a little bit of information and you know, that kind of thing.
JS: Well, my next question is how you came to this book that we’re discussing today, but that makes it all click into place about why you must love Elizabeth George, because she’s really known for this, right? This real detail into character.
AA: Yes. I adore her and writers like her. So I want to know why. I want interplay between the characters, especially if you’re going to read a long series. I don’t read series where the people don’t age and there’s no progression in character. It’s really important that you have character progression. And then the interrelationship between characters, um, is like 50% of the story. And then the other 50% is them going out to catch this killer or rapist or whatever the crime is as well.
JS: How did you first come across Elizabeth George?
AA: Okay. So I lived in Los Angeles about 20 years. I’ve only lived in three places. I don’t move that often, there’s something called Memorial Library, which is, I don’t know, on Olympic in Mid City. Either that or the Studio City Library. So I’ve known all the librarians cause I’m that person. They curate a certain style. They have a certain curation. I gravitate towards librarians that curate the way I like. So like Emily Aronson, who is the librarian at Studio City now, and even the previous one, um, curate those kinds of books. There are 50 branches in Los Angeles, so each one is not huge. So I go to the branches that curate what I like. So I went to one branch and she was like, that was closer to my first house. And she was like, no, no, you gotta go to the Memorial Branch because that librarian, whom I don’t remember, I feel horrible, you know, curates the kinds of books that you would like, and it, and she was right. And I was like, okay, thank you. So I think I came upon Elizabeth George, either in Memorial or at the Studio City branch. They don’t have a large crime section, cause each branch is fairly small. And I think that was in there. It was shorter because you know, your first book has to be shorter to be published. But there was something about it. So I just kept reading on. She only publishes a book every two or three years. So it’s not as if it’s a huge amount of time. But every time a new one would come out and I would get it. And I really, really love her development. As a writer, the books have gotten longer, but the nuances and character development is much better than in the beginning.
JS: So this book that we’re discussing today, What Came Before He Shot Her is 14 in this series, right?
AA: Yes. Yes.
JS: Now I have no ever read any Elizabeth George before. And as I was going through all of the reviews and things, a lot of people dislike this particular one because they didn’t feel it fit in with the rest of this series. And that was a complaint I saw several times: all these characters, we’ve really grown to love and know so well, don’t show up too much because it’s all about this other family, right? Is that your impression of it as well?
AA: So I love that. When we talked about doing the podcast, I didn’t realize the book is 15 years old. Like apparently a lot of time has passed in my life, but because to me it feels like day before yesterday, but I do remember when it came out, it was not even listed within the series. It was sort of marketed as a one-off. There are certain authors that will read anything they write, no matter the genre. It doesn’t matter. And she’s one of them. So I picked it up. And when I realized what it was about, I think I didn’t realize what it was about until the end of the book. Because I don’t read a back cover copy because it’s often too spoilerish and I don’t do spoilers. So I want to open every book and have a completely immersive experience without knowing anything about it. So when I picked it up and I was like, okay, so she wrote a new book and the title is kind of intriguing. And I read the whole thing. And only at the end of the book, do you realize that how it fits in. So at that time, it wasn’t listed as a series book. And I was surprised when I looked it up recently on Goodreads to see that it was. When I saw the reviews, like the reviews now were actually better than they were. It was like one star everywhere. People just hated it because they had feelings. They had a very narrow expectation and they wanted her as an author to stay in that lane. And I thought it was a brilliant and beautiful exploration of another aspect of the world and also an opportunity to have other characters. Because, you know, even with the evolution of characters across 20 books, there’s some limitations. Barbara is always Barbara, and Thomas is always Thomas and Winston’s always Winston, you know? And Deborah and all these other characters. And it was great for her to be able to tell the story of somebody else.
JS: Can you describe what this book is about? And maybe, could you also describe what the series that we’re talking about, for our listeners who maybe haven’t come across Elizabeth George?
AA: Yes. I’ll start with the series. So the series is basically, okay. Oh God. I have such a feeling about this. It is built as the Thomas Lynley series. And I don’t think I knew that originally because you know, when you read the first or second book, the series hasn’t been built yet, and it hasn’t been marketed a certain way. So it was not marketed that way. And to me, the, the great protagonist of all the books is Barbara, who is the partner of Thomas Lynley. So Thomas Lynley is an Earl, he’s the eighth Earl of Asherton. He drives a Bentley, you know, he lives in Belgravia, he’s wealthy, but he also decided to work and not be in the leisure class. He decided to work in London and he works for New Scotland Yard as a detective. Well, you know, the, his rank has changed, but this let’s say a Detective Inspector. And so, he has this partner, Barbara, who is not wealthy. She sort of lives in somebody’s back house, to be honest. It’s really tiny. She she’s very dowdy. She’s supposed to be very unattractive and does not dress well. So it’s this rich man who, you know, has decided to step out into, you know, police work and his partner, and then some of the ancillary people around in her life as well as his. So they’re basically murder mysteries. Like people die at boarding school, all these different places. Because of England’s structure, they can travel outside of London as opposed to like our state or city or County structure. And they solve these cases. And that’s, that’s what the series is. People die, they solve the cases. But as the series has evolved, the books have gotten longer, but there’s also been more social commentary. So by the time we get to this book, which I think you said it was 14, – well, I’m going to have to have the spoiler cause otherwise it makes no sense. In the previous book, Thomas Lynley gets married and his wife is pregnant and it’s all very happily ever after. And she’s beautiful and they’re beautiful. And they have all this money and they go shopping and everything’s lovely. And she gets shot randomly and the readers were upset and I was like, I’m not that upset, like something has to happen. It’s 14 books; things have to progress. Interestingly, she wrote an essay. So I was looking on her website because when this book came out, there was a lot of silence around it, but she wrote an essay like several years later, explaining that she wanted to do this as an artist. She wanted to do this and she didn’t want to remain stagnant. And I so appreciate that idea. “What Came Before He Shot Her” becomes sort of this twin book to the previous one. No one has witnessed, when Helen Lynley gets shot. She gets shot in front of her house right after she’s shopping for maternity clothes or baby stuff. And then in the next book, we just start back in time, let’s say six months or nine months or whatever number of months it is, with this family story. And at the end of this book, she’s shot again. But then you know why. Because you know, it was a random crime and you have no idea. Was she targeted because he’s in Scotland Yard, were they targeted because they’re rich? Was he targeted for any number of reasons? So this book ends up being just sort of a, I would call it, like, a meditation on how can I say this? The result of poverty, trauma, sex abuse, like any number of things that you come across. So let me say this when I was practicing law I did both juvenile and adult crimes, or even juvenile abuse and neglect cases. So you’d be in these courts and they’re like, we have to take these children away. Their parents are abusive or neglectful, or they just can’t handle raising these children. And we’re going to put them in foster care and we’re going to therefore solve all his problems. And then I would walk down the street and go to adult court where they’d have like a pre-sentencing hearing where they discuss what the sentence should be in concert with a department of probation. And they would stand there and say, well, you know, this child was in foster care their whole life. What do you expect? So I’ve watched that dichotomy for years and it drove me crazy. But I think the reason this book spoke to me is because she discusses those things. Like everybody’s like, well, they’re poor and there’s a lot of responsibility placed on poverty or trauma and you should just fix it. And sometimes it’s not fixable, especially by children. And I think I really liked that she addresses in this book. All of these things can be like a confluence event of events that end up with something horrible happening at the end.
JS: I only made it a hundred pages into this book, for several reasons. The first one being, it was so not a typical murder book structure. It felt like this giant descent into the pit of hell for these poor, beautiful babies, these three babies. And I kept thinking I thought it was going to work the way murder mysteries generally work, where we have the dead body in the first chapter, and then we spend the rest of it learning and then figuring it out. And so then this, it just started with the sad children and their lives just kept getting sadder. This was going to be one of my first questions: can you convince me to keep reading this? I feel already like I should keep reading, because this is going to go in a different way than I was expecting it to go.
AA: Okay. So publishing has changed a lot in the last 15 years. It’s changed a lot so much in my life. So. I was sort of hungry and I don’t know if I’m still, but any person who talked about people of color was something I wanted to read because it was so rare. I will put up with anything, God save us all, I will put up with anything to get a different kind of story. And I’m not saying all Black people live in poverty and are on the verge of crime or anything like that. But I just wanted something different. I mean, because you know, her, her main character is an Earl who deigns to work as a police officer. And there’s a lot of tension about that and the English aristocracy and his friends versus the friends of the people he works with. And that’s interesting. But it’s not my world, which is fine. But I used to be so hungry for stories that were just about something different. I have some issues with the dialect. I don’t like reading dialect, and British is its own thing, but it’s easier to read than to listen to. But I do think I don’t need a happy ending. And this does not have a happy ending, but I just like the realism of the story. The downward spiral. You know what I’m saying? That sounds awful, but I just see people spiral downward, but there’s not that many stories of that. Usually those stories on the other end. We meet them when they’re at the bottom and it’s the rebirth, the Phoenix rising from the ashes, those kinds of tales. And I just sort of like the spiral down because bad things happen to people and it goes badly. I mean, I used to visit people in prison and that’s where you hear the whole story and you go, Oh, it started not great. And here you are in prison.
JS: It’s so interesting to hear someone who is a fan of this series, and so passionate about the series talking about it. I do think this book is not done a service by the cover copy, and by where it’s placed, you know, on the Amazon page, because it’s very much set there as book number, whatever it is, 14 or 15 in the Inspector Lynley series. And so I automatically thought, Oh, this is going to be, you know, like the Inspector Gamache series or like the, I guess the Agatha Christie series, these other books that I have read. That’s not what this is at all. This is sort of like a sociopolitical examination of this one poor family. I didn’t even get to the mystery, cause I got so sad and depressed and I just, I couldn’t bear it, reading any more about that baby. The youngest one. I, my heart was just, Oh God. The daughter. Oh my God.
AA: Yeah. So it’s not a mystery. I don’t think I never said that. Right?
AA: I hear what you’re saying, but when I read it, it was not, it was sort of, do you know Tana French? I do like the Dublin Murder Squad, but then she has the two standalone books, The Witch Elm and The Searcher. A lot of people have the same sort of reaction. I mean, those aren’t mysteries, so I’m not saying that, but they have a similar reaction, but they are more socio-political. And so people are like, I just like the Dublin murder squad. And I like the fact that she has these detectives in Dublin and each one is a different detective and they solve this murder. And now we’re out with Cal in the hinterlands and he’s hiking up the side of the hill. I hear that but I like the writer. I think more than the other part is necessary for me. I always want to know more and no offense to Lynley and his friends. But there’s some limitations to them sitting around contemplating the tension between the aristocracy and average citizens.
JS: Okay. I think what I need to do, I clearly need to start from the beginning, don’t I?
AA: Oh God. That’s a lifetime investment. And they get longer. I mean, I’m not kidding you. The last two books I started out with 7-800 pages. Now, let me say this: I have my moments where I think New York books of writers who are well-established or not as heavily edited as they perhaps could be. But they do get expansive. But it’s very interesting. The first, let’s say, five books are not nearly as nuanced as later. This is always the tension in publishing. I don’t know. It’s because she’s a successful that they, she has a bigger hand or because she just evolved as a writer. I really like her discussion of socio-economics politics, religion, and race. It’s much broader in the later books than it was in the earlier ones.
JS: So when you are recommending books to people, will you say this one? Or do you generally tell people if they’re going to start with Elizabeth George, start with book one?
AA: No, I never thought about it. When you asked me about this podcast, that was the book I recommend to everyone. I have readers email me all the time, cause I like to talk about books. So they’ll email me and they’re like, what do you recommend? And this is always the first book I recommend and I hadn’t thought about it. rBut they’re my readers, so I assume that if I’m writing about sex trafficking and what horrible things happen to these people, then they’re prepared for that. But I had never thought about it. Yeah. So I’ve been recommending it, I looked it up, and I realized that I’ve been recommending the same book for 15 years. I was like, wow. I guess I’m really all in. So no, I give no context because I don’t like contexts. So I recommend this. I sometimes recommend Tana French. I recommend Julia Spencer Fleming.
JS: So is that the most recent book you’ve read?
AA: No. So I’m going to be honest. I go through self-help modes. The last one was probably 20 years ago. So then maybe they don’t last that long. No, the last book I actually read was like, Oh, I don’t know, like adult children of emotionally stunted parents or something like that, which is actually fascinating because I am in this space in my life where I feel like to some degree, people are a black box and I used to be very good at reading people, but I feel like at some point lately, some people I’m just like, I don’t understand what’s going. I’m on lifting the lid and it’s just dark in there. So I’ve been reading all these books, trying to get a better read on people, because I guess as I’m getting older, I’m meeting more people. Like I met somebody recently and then I read this whole book, When He’s Married to Mom. It’s about mother enmeshed men, because I’d never come across it before. But I met somebody and I was like, Oh, there’s a lot of issues here. And then I read the book and I was like, Oh, this explains it. But I’ve lived a whole lot of years and had never met anybody like that. And so there’s been a lot of that. A then I’m reading crime fiction. I have not been reading romance, which has been a staple my whole life, but right now I’m in the middle of, no I’m at the end of, a divorce. Let me say that I’m in this space where that’s not working for me. The happy endings were not the reason I read it. I read it mainly before that falling in love piece, like that piece where two people recognize what they can be for each other. That part I really like, but that has to be so with romance, I don’t want to say in particular, because I’ve read like thousands of them over the years, but as I’ve gotten older, I’m a little more particular and I’m looking more for that relationship and less for humor or hi-jinks or meet cute. So it’s been a little more difficult to find that. I mean, I have my authors like Sarina Bowen. I think those that, well, um, there’s a woman, Sarah Mayberry does that so well. I think she’s brilliant at it. There’s some authors I know who are absolutely brilliant at that. And I would read them, but finding that generally is a little more difficult.
JS: What prompted you to start your podcast? Will you tell us a little bit about that?
AA: I have a podcast called A Time To Thrill, and it’s just sort of conversations with creative women. You know, it’s a pandemic. I started three books, so I’m usually a person who writes a book from start to finish. I never work on multiple projects. I’m very disciplined and structured, but in 2020, I just couldn’t pull it together. And you know, my child was home all day every day, so I’m sure that didn’t help with the concentration piece. But I started thinking about some of the things I really enjoy in my life. And one of the things I enjoy my life was talking to creative women about their process and sort of their life. And I had these conversations regularly in my life. And also, when I used to travel to writers conferences. I thought, I want to share those conversations with other people. And that was the prompting for it. And it’s been the biggest joy of my life. I’ve gotten to have deeper conversations with people than I wouldn’t necessarily have. I think I know all of them personally, but you know, you have like a conversation and then you like talk about food and they talk about your kids. And it’s sort of far-ranging, especially as somebody who have known like 20 years. But I sort of love the opportunity to have focused and directed conversations just about their creativity. One of the people I interviewed is a woman named Elizabeth Decker. She’s a painter. I met her, oddly, in a writing class years and years ago, I think she said 16 years ago. I’ve known her for 16 years. But was the first time I ever talked to her about her art. I didn’t know that she was untutored or I didn’t know why she painted the things that she did. Like I had never had those in-depth conversations about her creativity and that I’ve always wanted to have those conversations. Sometimes I’ll have them over wine. And now I get to ask them all the questions I’ve always wanted to know about their art, their creative process.
JS: You’re a person who is so interested in creative expression. I’m curious if you ever see yourself venturing into other genres in your writing life?
AA: This is so interesting. I just had this conversation last night with a friend and she was like, what is the bigger story that you want to tell? And then I had to go to bed. I was like, that was such a hard one. It was such an interesting question because I would have said last year, two years ago, five years ago: No, I’ll write crime fiction and I’ll write romance. I’m not writing romance right now, but that’s probably a function of my personal life. So, I’ll write these two things and that’ll just be how it rolls. And I’m thinking now, especially since I’m ending a series and starting a new one, but the new one may be only going to be a trilogy. So it’s not, you know, I’m not 10 books into a new thing, but I do think that maybe there may be a different story to tell, and that’s something I’m thinking deeply about. I don’t know if you saw the movie “Promising Young Woman”, but it was on the front page of Variety like six weeks ago. I don’t know. Time is fluid right now. They had the script. I normally don’t read them. I’m going to be honest, I was probably procrastinating. So one morning I clicked on it. And like two hours later I looked up and I thought. Oh, if all scripts were this evocative, I can understand more about the beauty of screenwriting and the whole writer-director thing. It was just such a different story. And I was like, Oh, there are different stories to tell outside of any particular genre convention. And I wonder if I want to do that. It’s something I’m playing around with in my head, because I don’t know what’s next. I have like two or three books on deck, but after that, I don’t know.
JS: Well, I cannot wait to see what you do.
AA: Neither can I, because it’s going to be a surprise.
JS: Aime. It has been so fun talking to you. I hope you’ll come back anytime you have a book you want to talk to me about, because it is a delight. Will you share with my listeners where they can find you?
AA: I am ironically not that many places on social media. I try to cut back cause it sucks up my time, but I am on Instagram and on Facebook. I don’t post on Facebook that often, probably not that often at all. But I do post on Instagram fairly often. I spend a lot of time thinking about what my characters say, and then also excerpts fom the podcast that I love. There’s one actually from Evelyn Adams, where she talks about romance being about being seen. And I never thought about it that way. And I thought it was one of the most brilliant things anybody’s ever said.
JS: I want to thank you for joining me today. This has been so fun talking to you thank you so much.
Thanks for listening, Bookworms. For more information on this episode and links to all the books we discussed, go to our website. You can also follow us on Instagram. I’m your host, Julie Strauss, and you can find me on Instagram. Remember, whenever you are book shopping, help support indie bookstores and this podcast by using my affiliate link at Bookshop. Their mission is to support local, independent bookstores, nd if you shop using my link, I’ll get a small percentage of your purchase at no extra expense to you.
Thanks for joining me today. And I will see you at the library.