Ballantine Books, 352 pages, $27
“The Girl Before” is strikingly like two recent “girl” books, the megahits “Girl Gone” and “The Girl on the Train.” There are two main voices in “The Girl Before,” and it’s possible that both are unreliable narrators. A lot of the suspense comes from gradually learning the women’s true stories. And there are twists.
Emma Matthews and Jane Cavendish alternate their tales. Emma’s comes “before” and Jane’s is “now.” Despite a dizzying amount of toggling between the two, J. P. Delaney does a great job of keeping the reader on task with whichever story is to the fore. Their stories are similar and are based around the house they live in.
Edward Monkford is a well-known architect. He has a minimalist aesthetic, usually expressed in big projects. However, there is one small home he designed in London. It is this home that Emma and Jane, in turn, rent for an outrageously small amount of money. Why is it so reasonably priced? After all, it is a architectural gem, sometimes toured by formal groups. Is it because of the two hundred or so restrictions placed on the renters?
This is the part of the book I found most original and intriguing. Monkford’s house is a technological marvel, designed to adjust to the time of day, time of year, mood of the occupant, most of which is done automatically. Using sensors, the renter’s biometric feedback is used to further the house’s ability to “help” its occupant. The home is primarily cream and white, with clean surfaces and no unnecessary equipment, handles, artifacts, tchotchkes protruding or intruding. The restrictions are set to maintain this aesthetic. If your home isn’t cluttered, maybe your mind will follow suit. Decisions will be easier to make, priorities will be easier to find. This sounds more sci-fi than contemporary mystery, but it adds to the scare factor.
There are suspicious deaths, one having taken place in the house. Were these deaths murders? As the contemporary occupant, Jane must assume the burden to link the prior deaths. Is her own life in danger as a result? J. P. Delaney is the master of slowly teasing out the suspense.
“The Girl Before” was very entertaining and well-paced. It's "Gone Girl" plus "Fifty Shades of Grey" plus "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up." J. P. Delaney knows her stuff.