The minimalist style is experiencing a boom, and so do psychological thrillers. However, I never imagined that the two could be combined to create the perfect storyline.

Following a personal tragedy, Jane rents a simple but aesthetically perfect house that she hopes will help her find her peace. No sooner has she settled in, when a series of events – including a new romance – lead to a revelation. Who was the previous tenant and how did she die? Time is running out as she frantically tries to find out who killed Emma Matthews. Will Jane face the same fate as The Girl Before?

Even before JP Delaney, the author, published the global best-seller, screen rights for The Girl Before were auctioned to Universal Pictures. Delaney is a pseudonym for Tony Strong, who wrote not only various books under his own name but also the Carnivia trilogy under the pen-name Jonathan Holt. He writes the novel from the perspectives of two female characters, as though he were in the mind of two girls in crisis, and he does so as well as a woman could.

It has become quite common for stories to be written from more than one viewpoint and even to span multiple timelines. However, the difference here is the way in which the use of present and past highlights parallels between the two girls. The title, which would usually refer to a change in one person’s character, here suggests that the two girls’ lives echo each other to the point where they become almost interchangeable.

Two vulnerable girls, both without a male partner to watch over them in their time of need, who are also almost identical in looks, attract the eccentric architect Edward Monkford. He is the one who built the stark yet stately house at One Folgate Street. The coincidences in this story mount to the point where the reader questions the truth of any and all of the things that happen throughout the tale. As a result, even as everything points towards one person as the most likely killer – which would in any other story make a sensible reader sure that therefore he isn’t – doubt creeps into the mind the further the story goes.

This is not just crime fiction, but also an examination of human circumstances and why people are the way they are. There’s nature and there’s nurture after all. Characters in this tale are well-rounded, not only with background and flawed characters, but with agendas of their own, tricks up their sleeves, personal preferences, and differences in the way they act. However, it is the setting in this story that seems to play an even more important part than the characters. The house, in its very unimposing self, seems to come alive in the nightmare of both tenants’ lives. Both women need to hold on to something and look at the house as a refuge at first. However, it seems to turn against them. Or does it really?

With twists up to the end and clues that lead Jane nowhere till she finally faces Emma’s true murderer face-to-face, this tale had my heart thumping almost throughout. I did question the anti-climatic ending that came after the resolution to this murder mystery. Yet, viewing it as part of a whole, it was definitely the most appropriate one at the same time. The author admitted to writing eighteen endings before choosing the one that he thought best fit the bill.

Detailed enough and even realistic in a bizarre newspaper-story way, the events of this tale remained in my head even after I put the book down for the last time, not least for the ingenious way in which the facts all came together at the end. This is one that rivals duo Nicci French’s list of successes and outdoes The Girl on the Train for surprises and unreliable narrators.

The Girl Before was kindly provided by Agenda Book Shop.

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