I will never be able to come up with a Top 10 or 20 this year again. Before She Knew Him is another proof of this. What a read. What A READ! Do I wish my TBR were less good? Nope!!!
My biggest thanks to Faber & Faber for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. Hugs to Namra for the speed delivery to fight postage fails!
Title: Before She Knew Him
Author: Peter Swanson
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Date of publication: 7.03.2019
Number of pages: 309
‘Ever since she’d been old enough to pick out her own library books, Hen had always
had a morbid streak, a preoccupation with death.’
When Hen and Lloyd move into their new house in West Dartford, Mass., they’re
relieved to meet, at their first block party, the only other seemingly-childless couple in
their neighborhood, Matthew and Mira Dolamore. Turns out they live in the Dutch
Colonial immediately next door.
When they’re invited over for dinner, however, things take a sinister turn when Hen thinks she sees something suspicious in Matthew’s study. Could this charming, mild-mannered College Professor really be hiding a dark secret, one that only Hen, who’s been battling her own problems with depression and medication, could know about?
Lloyd certainly doesn’t seem to believe her, and so, forced together, Hen and Matthew start to form an unlikely bond. But who, if anyone, is really in danger?
From its deeply unsettling opening, Peter Swanson, the master of contemporary domestic thrillers, fashions a novel as brilliant, dark, coruscating and surprising as Patricia Highsmith and Ira Levin at their very best.
Some titles get under your skin. Before She Knew Him is one of them. Intriguing… Who is ‘she’? Who is ‘him’? What happens between those nameless characters? Clear, simple, punchy and definitely promising something dark, there was no chance of me missing out on reading this novel, especially with such a beautiful cover, the perfect match to the perfect title!
What do you mean, you already know I’ve loved the book?!
Well, let me tell you why anyway!
Moving is exciting, but there’s some pressure about meeting new neighbours and feeling a bit apart in a suburban street where the normal is 2.4 kids and a shiny car in the driveway. So, it’s a relief for Hen and Lloyd to find their closest neighbours don’t have children either and look quite normal.
What is normal?
That’s how Hen and Lloyd end up dining at Mira and Matthew’s house. An evening that will change four lives. Or many more…
Hen is a fascinating character. Her voice in one of the three you hear throughout the book, and she’s my favourite. Vulnerable but resilient, reliably unreliable or unreliably thanks to a brilliant twist used by the author to cast doubt on Hen’s thoughts and actions, she’s an artist with a clever mind. Her art is dark, deep, dazzling. She’s made the strongest impression on me and was the light to another character’s dark: Matthew.
When the sight of a trophy in Matthew’s study brings memories back, Hen listens to her gut, sure that she has put her finger on something big. But with only so little to go with, who will believe her? The book is divided in parts and although all three are simply brilliant, I’d like to say the first one was the one who had a biggest impact on me. What do you do when you know something but everyone is deaf to your screams for help? How much proof is needed for others to trust your instinct? Now I am back to the ‘tool’ I mentioned earlier. Hen has a mental health past and is under medication, putting her straight away into the ‘not to be trusted’ witness box. This, for me, sounded so true and so unfair, giving the novel a complex layer. I fought with Hen, with all my strength. I can’t say I was convinced from scratch by Hen’s theory, but she logical explanations and the right arguments gave me the urge to bang my fist on the table and scream ‘LOOK! She’s RIGHT!!!’ And then I would wonder… The tension was everywhere as Peter Swanson sowed the seeds of what was to come in the two other parts with hints and thrills brought by a perfectly handled narrative.
Part two and three are equally compelling, the split narrative between Hen and Matthew keeping my toes moving in trepidation of what was to come. The first part is a threshold and the rest is pure darkness in every day clothes. I am not talking faceless monsters you can’t understand. That would have been too easy. I faced real people dealing with internal demons. The relationship between Hen and Matthew is sickly good, stunningly electric and makes for an intense and cunning way to explore motives, appearances, and … so much more I can’t talk about without spoiling it for you!!! Frustration! But let me tell you, Before She Knew Him is black and original. So original that the ending came as a total surprise. My mouth was hanging open as I was reading. I couldn’t think, I just wanted to read to fully understand what was happening. I later went back to the events that had led to the fireworks that make the ending and view them with new eyes, fresh and knowing eyes who could see there was no other ending possible.
Scarcely had a reading been so satisfying. Before She Knew Him is a chilling ride into the world of classic psychological thrillers, it reminds us what it takes for the genre to take our breath (and mind) away!
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