Nora Ephron concocted the title, redolent as it is of noir romance. That much the acknowledgments tell us at the close of “She Left Me the Gun,” a book that opens with talk of a crime and our first glimpse of the perpetrator. But this is not pulp fiction. It is, rather, a daughter’s gripping, compassionate investigation into a past from which her mother had shielded her with ferocious, quietly fraught love.
“He was a talented carpenter, a talented artist, a convicted murderer and a very bad poet,” British journalist Emma Brockes writes, introducing us to her grandfather, Jimmy, whose depraved and vicious heart pumped a poison through his family that remained long after he was gone. Brockes guesses that her grandmother, Sarah, had no idea, in 1930s South Africa, that she’d married a killer. “Which is a shame. It would have been useful information to have had when, as she lay dying, she was deciding with whom to leave my two-year-old mother.”