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The Girl Before

A somewhat unusual psychological thriller where the chapters alternate between then and now as the book follows the progress of two women where one is written in the first person and the other in the third person. Add to that the fact that the dialogue of one is in quotation marks while the other is without. At first I actually thought of putting this book down but I am glad I did not because after a few of the initial chapters it became very interesting.

The two women rent the same house, Emma previously and Jane currently. The house was, and still is, an architectural dream and in order to become a tenant there is a considerable questionnaire to be considered (each chapter in the book is preceded by a sample question), as well as an interview with the architect himself. It is also necessary for the tenant to agree to abide by a specific set of rules effectively meaning nothing may be left out which might detract from the almost perfect design of pale cream coloured stone and glass. With everything controlled by computer, doors are locked and only opened by those who possess the right “remote” control. The windows do not need curtains because they automatically darken when daylight is gone. The computer will slowly adapt itself to the requirements of the resident and is capable of even remembering the required water temperature in the shower for each individual user it recognises.

The architect, Edward Monkford, is renowned for his minimalist designs and this was his design for a family home in which he lived with his wife and son. Unfortunately both his wife and son were killed and he now lets the house but only on condition that it is kept the way he wants it to be kept. This, together with other certain aspirations, immediately introduces an amount of suspense.

Emma and Simon have suffered a violent burglary while Emma was at home alone and she is now determined to move in order to try to leave the memories behind. Initially she is apprehensive, almost refusing to believe she could ever accept all the rules, but slowly comes to like the house and her story from the recent past is played out in the book.

Joan is on her own and wishes to move from her home, having recently suffered a personal tragedy. Having answered all the questionnaires, agreed to obey the rules and been interviewed by Edward Monkford, she moves in. However, she is not totally happy with some of the facts she unearths concerning the house, unexplained deaths, and begins to start a bit of detective work in respect of the previous tenant Emma and the owner of the house.

To say more would be explaining the plot which would not be nice because it would take away the development of the story with its twists and turns. Suffice to say that the ending is not quite what one would expect. The book is well written and, after the initial chapters, keeps it all moving along at a fair pace. Well worth reading if psychological thrillers are what you enjoy.

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