I only requested this book for review recently, though it was released earlier this year. I’ve read two books by Peter Swanson and still remember the beguiling title of his debut… The Girl With a Clock for a Heart.
His novels are satisfyingly twisty with complex characters, usually with frailties and there’s often moral or ethical challenge at the heart of the book. His latest is no different.
Before She Knew Him
by Peter Swanson
Published by Faber And Faber Ltd.
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Psychological Thriller
Hen and her husband Lloyd have settled into a quiet life in a new house outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Hen (short for Henrietta) is an illustrator and works out of a studio nearby, and has found the right meds to control her bipolar disorder. Finally, she’s found some stability and peace.
But when they meet the neighbors next door, that calm begins to erode as she spots a familiar object displayed on the husband’s office shelf. The sports trophy looks exactly like one that went missing from the home of a young man who was killed two years ago. Hen knows because she’s long had a fascination with this unsolved murder—an obsession she doesn’t talk about anymore, but can’t fully shake either.
Could her neighbor, Matthew, be a killer?
The more Hen observes Matthew, the more she suspects he’s planning something truly terrifying. Yet no one will believe her. Then one night, when she comes face to face with Matthew in a dark parking lot, she realizes that he knows she’s been watching him, that she’s really on to him. And that this is the beginning of a horrifying nightmare she may not live to escape. . .
Hen’s husband Lloyd treats her with kid gloves from the opening of this book, so we know something’s happened in her past. The blurb mentions her biploar disorder but it’s eked out more frugally in the book as we slowly learn about the events that caused them to leave their old house in Cambridge and those of Hen’s youth – which come back to ‘bite’ her here.
It’s her history that has people (well, Lloyd in particular) doubting her suspicions of Matthew their neighbour.
Interestingly the book unfolds from third person point of view from both couples. (Probably less so from Lloyd’s now I think about it!) But it means we know their secrets and their suspicions.
I guessed one of the major ‘twists’. I’d like to say it’s my superior intellect, but more likely my suspicious nature and fact I read A LOT of suspense novels. There were a few twists I didn’t expect and then others I did. (I would have liked Swanson to explore Mira’s character more. We do learn a little about her past but…)
As I mentioned earlier Swanson reflects on mental illness – those with biological causes and those resulting from trauma. Of course I guess the jury is still out on how some people subjected to trauma become psychopaths and others don’t… so assume there’s some biological element as well. Or perhaps just intervention at the right time?!
There’s also a theme around right / wrong; good / bad; and ‘justice’. Moral or ethical dilemmas about actions taken, meting out punishment and a sense that some ‘deserve’ their fates.
I really liked where Swanson ended up taking Matthew’s character which was one of the strengths of this novel. I also liked that Swanson didn’t pfaff about in getting to the crux of the whole… ‘Is Matthew a murderer or is Hen mistaken (again)’ question.
This is probably my favourite of the books by Swanson I’ve read to date. Twisty, kinda predictable in terms of the whodunnit, but not in how things eventually unfold.
Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.