‘The Girl Before’ – J. P. Delaney

So, I picked this book up mostly based on the cover. Apparently, it’s ‘Dazzling’ (Lee Child), ‘Deeply addictive’ (Daily Express), and ‘Really clever’ (Daily Mail). Well recommended then. The Sunday Times even goes so far as to suggest that this is ‘an outstanding debut that is more than a match for…The Girl on the Train‘. I had high hopes opening this one up, especially when I saw Peter James had provided an endorsement. If it’s good enough for Mr James, it’s got to be good enough for me!

The basic story is pretty simple. There’s a house – One Folgate Street – an ultra-minimalist, technologically intricate dwelling designed by an enigmatic architect, Edward. One of the primary characters, Jane, who is in a bad place for various reasons, stumbles on the rental opportunity of a lifetime. She can rent the house, but only if she agrees to a whole bunch of exacting rules. No pets, no children, the house has to be kept tidy at all times, and so on. Despite these restrictions, she decides to rent the house anyway.

But, and this is a big but, the previous tenant is a woman called Emma, who met an untimely end in the house. Not only that, but the house has other tragedies in its past as well. Jane gradually uncovers the house’s history, and starts to become concerned that she is in danger. But from whom?

There’s nothing there that you won’t get from the back cover, so there’s no spoilers here. When I started reading the book, there were a few stylistic writing choices that initially irritated me from a reader’s perspective. The point of view of the chapters flips between various characters, and also timelines – ‘Now: Jane’, ‘Then: Emma’, and so on. At times, this gets confusing, and more than once I found myself flipping the pages back to see whose head I was in, and what part of the timeline I was in. As the book progresses, and the commonality between the threads and the protagonist’s experiences start to converge, this becomes more acute. The author uses grammatical tools to try to differentiate between the threads, such as not using ‘proper’ punctuation for the dialogue in one of the POVs – almost like Cormac McCarthy – which annoyed the hell out of me at the start but once I got used to it, this annoyance faded.

The bottom line here is that this is a very well crafted piece, intricately woven together, and with a satisfying and rewarding conclusion. There is – deliberately and necessarily so – a lot of similarities between the various protagonists. The way that the story is presented is confusing at times, or at least it was for me, but this shouldn’t distract from what is an excellent piece. Well drawn and defined characters, a compelling storyline that had me hooked until the end.

Would i recommend this book? Oh yes. 4 stars, with only some of the stylistic writing choices preventing a solid 5 stars.