Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Before She Knew Him

Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson
HarperCollins: 3/5/19
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062838155

Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson is a highly recommended thriller with unreliable narrators.

Hen (Henrietta) Mazur and her husband Lloyd Harding are settling into their new suburban home outside of Boston. It's a perfect location for Lloyd's commute and Hen's rented studio space nearby. Life seems to be going well for the couple, especially now that Hen is on the right medication to control her bi-polar disorder. When they meet and are invited over for dinner by their neighbors, Mira and Matthew Dolamore, the night is uneventful until Hen spots a fencing trophy in Matthew's study that she knows looks like one that belonged to a young man who was murdered two years before. Hen has been obsessed with this case and she knows the trophy went missing after the murder.

Matthew works at the school where the murdered young man attended and he knows Hen suspects him of something, so he removes the trophy. This marks the start of Hen's obsession with Matthew and she begins to watch/stalk him. Is she having another psychotic episode, like the one she had during college, or is Matthew a killer? Hen talks to Lloyd and the police, but it is unclear if anyone believes her due to her history of mental health problems.

Chapters alternate between the points-of-view of the characters. Clearly none of these people are reliable and it is difficult to ascertain if any of the characters can be trusted. None of these characters are likeable either, which can be a plus or minus. As you enter into their thought processes and actions, you aren't going to trust any of them. Hen's immediate visceral reaction to Matthew after seeing the trophy and promptly suspecting him of murder is odd and a pretty big hurdle. The characters are developed, although just to the extent that Swanson deems necessary for his narrative. Bad choices and bad decisions abound in these characters.

The writing is quite good and held my attention, even through my disbelief. Swanson also manages to ratchet up the tension while building the suspense and keeping the atmosphere dark and disorientating. It is clear that something bad is going to come of all of this, it is just uncertain, with these flawed characters in what form or from whom the imminent nefarious deed will come. Swanson manages to pull it all together in the end and several of my questions and doubts were resolved. The ending is satisfying, but does enter a somewhat well-traveled twist.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

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