The Girl Before

Written by JP Delaney

Review written by Philip Gooden

His historical novels include the Nick Revill series, set in Elizabethan London, a Victorian sequence, and a series of Chaucer mysteries, now in in e-books.


The Girl Before
Quercus
RRP: £12.99
Released: January 26 2017
HBK

I suppose it was only a matter of time before the astronomical price of houses in London became a major factor in a thriller, as it is in The Girl Before.

Jane Cavendish, still traumatised by the still-birth of her child, is offered the lease on a minimalist, hypermodern house in Hendon; in which everything is digitally controlled while occupants and visitors are ‘swimming in a complex soup of ultrasonics - mood-enhancing waveforms’. It’s the creation of techno-architect and control freak Edward Monkford. He’s looking for the right kind of tenants, ideally female and traumatised, it seems, and ones whom he must vet in person. The rent may be low but would-be tenants are required to fill out a psychological questionnaire and agree to live by the house rules, which number more than two hundred. 

Jane soon discovers that Emma Matthews, a previous occupant of One Folgate Street, died in the house in mysterious circumstances. The police investigated but couldn’t find enough evidence for a murder charge. And there are disturbing similarities between Jane’s experiences now and those of the girl before, Emma, who survived a break-in and rape at her old flat: both women are trying to rebuild their lives, both start affairs with the charismatic but decidedly sinister architect Edward; both run afoul of his control freakery, and both begin to fear for their lives. The Girl Before is told in alternate voices, Emma’s then and Jane’s now. The stories sometimes run in parallel, but sometimes they diverge [although often going over the same ground].

Author J P Delaney keeps things fresh and surprising because of the contrasting characters and histories of the two women, and the fact that one of them turns out to be a very unreliable narrator. 

The title is an obvious attempt to catch the Gone Girl on the Train market, and there are a few similarities, particularly the ‘double-time’ narrative structure, but The Girl Before is strong enough to stand on its own. I read it in 24 hours and happily suspended disbelief at the twists and contrivances. It’s presented like a first-time novel but minimal research establishes that J P Delaney is a pseudonym for a best-selling author - maybe even a man [unless this is another piece of misdirection].

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