What Came Before

by  Gay Degani

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A literary suspense novel sparked by racial tensions and family history: Fed up with being tied down by twenty-five years of domestic bliss and everyone’s expectations, Abbie Palmer is struggling to assert some independence from her husband Craig and find her creative self.

When he tells her, “No man is an island,” she flings back, “That’s exactly what I want to be, an island. I’m sick of being a whole continent.” But breaking away from her mainland isn’t so easy, what with cops, Molotov cocktails and Hollywood starlets, lost memories – and maybe an unknown half-sister…


ISBN (paperback)  978-1-925536-05-8

ISBN (eBook) 978-1-925536-06-5

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What people are saying about What Came Before


What Came Before is a remarkable achievement – a smart, fast-paced mystery that asks important questions about identity, family, and race. And, like the best of its genre, it’s loaded with puzzles: What really happened on the day Abbie Palmer’s mother killed herself? Who is the mysterious woman who shows up on Abbie’s doorstep, and why would anyone want her dead? Gay Degani’s prose is at all times lucid and compelling, and her exciting story will keep you glued to your chair.

—Clifford Garstang, winner of the 2013 Library of Virginia Award for Fiction for What the Zhang Boys Know


A woman, who lost her Hollywood starlet mother to suicide when she was a small child, finds herself embroiled in the murder mystery of a half-sister she never knew she had. Determined to find answers and with her now motherless niece in her charge, she embarks on her own investigation and finds herself drawn ever deeper into danger. Fast-paced and sharply written, with unforgettable characters, this novel by Gay Degani will grab hold and not let go. A terrific read!

—Kathy Fish, author of Wild Life and Together We Can Bury It


Abbie Palmer has left her husband and home, albeit temporarily, to find herself, again. And then, a piece of paper slipped under the door. A burnt house. A dead woman. A young girl who has lost her mother… Abbie Palmer’s world turns upside down, inside out, and dangerous. Written like a thriller, this novel, which is one woman’s emotional journey, her quest to learn the truth about herself, takes the reader swiftly through tightly bound, flash-fiction-sized chapters. Gay Degani’s prose is vividly paced, something that I have come to recognise as her personal style, having read her short fiction before. The story unfolds rapidly, and yet manages to convey the sights, sounds and smells of the narrative clearly. I can’t think of an afternoon spent so energetically without moving an inch from my armchair!

— RK Biswas, author of Culling Mynahs and Crows


With engaging characters and a compelling mystery, Gay Degani’s What Came Before draws you in and doesn’t let go. If this had been a movie, I wouldn’t have left the cinema for more popcorn. A brilliant and complex whodunit with a memorable, imperfect character at its helm.

—Christopher Allen, author of Conversations with S. Teri O’Type (a Satire)


Part murder mystery, part family saga, Gay Degani’s What Came Before is an exciting debut not to be missed!

—Robert Swartwood, USA TODAY bestselling author of The Serial Killer’s Wife and Man of Wax


Gay Degani beautifully combines suspense in her debut novel What Came Before with a love for language usually reserved for literary tales. Within two pages, Degani abducts the reader for a wonderful ride into Abbie Palmer’s life: a stranger who can’t possibly be related knocks on her front door and says, “Your mother is my mother.” Soon we’re racing through Hollywood, trying to track down a certain ‘Palm Springs Bikini Girl’ who died in the fifties, and without an extra word anywhere from this flash fiction expert, run into adultery, racial predicaments, and scheming new wives. Do not sit down to read this with only a few minutes. You won’t want to put this stunner down.

—Bonnie ZoBell, author of What Happened Here and The Whack-Job Girls


Five words scribbled on a discarded piece of paper ignite old memories for Abbie Palmer and leads to the explosive uncovering of a fifty-year-old mystery, as surely as a sizzling fuse running to a stick of dynamite. What Came Before, Gay Degani’s debut novel rumbles along at break-neck speed. I’ve long enjoyed the quirky characters and tightly-written plots of Ms. Degani’s short stories and her novel didn’t disappoint me. The book presents great characters, including a strong older-female protagonist, and ably-managed twists and turns through the streets and people of modern-day Los Angeles, as well as the L.A. of fifty years ago. Old-school suspense at its best.

—K.C. Ball, winner of the 2012 Speculative Fiction Foundation Older Writers Grant and author of Lifting Up Veronica


Like Abbie Palmer, the Twinkie-eating, Ativan-popping, bewildered protagonist, the reader is drawn into a swirling journey of unexpected deaths, unknown relatives, and old secrets. Degani’s absorbing debut novel unfolds hazy memories and reveals the buried facts of a generation where society-shocking truths were kept well-hidden.

—Stefanie Freele, author of Feeding Strays and Surrounded By Water


Hollywood movie starlets. Murder. Arson. Half-sisters and half-truths. What Came Before is a fast-paced murder mystery set in the heart and spirit of L.A. Though issues of class, race and politics hover in the air, the book focuses on character and story. Gay Degani is a skillful storyteller, and her character Abbie is full of enough spunk and gumption to have you rooting for her from page one. At once humorous and heartfelt, What Came Before also keeps you turning pages, eager to uncover more of the story.

—Tara Laskowski, author of Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons and senior editor at SmokeLong Quarterly

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