Pub. Date: January 24, 2017
Source: e-ARC via publisher (Thank you, Ballantine Books!)
Summary: Reeling from a traumatic break-in, Emma wants a new place to live. But none of the apartments she sees are affordable or feel safe. Until One Folgate Street. The house is an architectural masterpiece: a minimalist design of pale stone, plate glass, and soaring ceilings. But there are rules. The enigmatic architect who designed the house retains full control: no books, no throw pillows, no photos or clutter or personal effects of any kind. The space is intended to transform its occupant—and it does.
After a personal tragedy, Jane needs a fresh start. When she finds One Folgate Street she is instantly drawn to the space—and to its aloof but seductive creator. Moving in, Jane soon learns about the untimely death of the home’s previous tenant, a woman similar to Jane in age and appearance. As Jane tries to untangle truth from lies, she unwittingly follows the same patterns, makes the same choices, crosses paths with the same people, and experiences the same terror, as the girl before.
Genre: Contemporary, Psychological Thriller
These days you’re hard-pressed to find a thriller that isn’t labeled The Next Gone Girl or Girl on the Train. Usually that’s enough for me to steer clear, but The Girl Before is getting so much buzz that, I’ll admit, I was curious and, when the chance to review a copy was offered, I couldn’t help myself.
Much like the other The Girl Before (which I also enjoyed!), the chapters alternate between then, which focus on Emma, and now, Jane’s story. After a break-in leaves her sense of peace shattered, Emma has convinced her boyfriend to look at other places to live. Each apartment, however, isn’t quite up to Emma’s newfound standards: for example, a window with access to the roof is practically an invitation for a burglar. Eventually the realtor offers an…interesting option. An architect famous for his minimalist style has a house to rent for cheap – very cheap – but there is a score of rules. No books, no photos, no children, the list goes on. Realizing this house, complete with the highest of high tech gadgets, could finally calm her fears and allow her to live again, Emma fills out the application and hopes for good news.
Two years later Jane is still reeling from the shock of a stillbirth. With a house full of baby clothes and a newly furnished nursery – not to mention her company brought someone on to fill her role during the maternity leave she no longer needs – Jane craves a fresh start, a place not bursting with hopes and dreams of what could have been. Her much tighter budget doesn’t allow for much, and it’s only as a last option that the realtor mentions a place she might be interested in. Granted, the owner is extremely particular and eventually has the final say in who gets to rent the place, but Jane goes along with filling out the application anyway.
From Jane’s initial chapters, it’s clear something bad happened to Emma, thus allowing the house to become available once more. She learns Emma tragically died, assumed to have stepped out of the shower and slipped down the steps. As Jane becomes more and more curious, she digs deeper into what really happened and discovered more than she bargained more. I’ll admit that I had a guess as to what went on the night Emma died and I’m pleased to say that, initially, I was wrong. It wasn’t until more details were slowly revealed or hinted at that I figured out the truth.
Right from the start Edward, the architect behind the house, is shown as a too-charming, super charismatic guy with a past. He had once been married with a young son and, sadly, both were killed. The coincidence of another death linked to Edward, combined with some seriously controlling tendencies easily labeled him the Bad Guy in the story. Honestly, the more I read, the more I likened The Girl Before not to Gone Girl and Girl on the Train, but to one of my top reads of 2016, Behind Closed Doors. Jack Angel is depicted as just that, an angel, to the world. Behind closed doors however, it’s another story, and that’s exactly the vibe I got from Edward. He charms his way right into both women’s hearts and his near-verbatim interactions with each one was fascinating and chilling to witness. He has a line he repeats several times: “This relationship will continue only for as long as it’s absolutely perfect” and more than once his dialogue ends with he says reasonably. As both stories are told from the women’s perspective, it was intriguing to watch just how effortlessly he was able to worm his way inside and manipulate them into seeing things his way, going along with his decisions.
Tech also plays a large role in the book. This house is truly a smart house. Instead of keys there’s an app to download that has a passcode in order to get through the front door. A waterproof bracelet learns preferred shower temperatures and automatically sets to those specifications depending on who is in the bath. The house has its own intranet – complete with certain restrictions aka no google searches here – and, occasionally, will shut off access to the computer/shower/sink/etc in order for the renter to answer questions ranging from how happy they are with their surroundings to who they would save first in an emergency (rescue their own child from drowning and save one life or run for help in order to save a group of children at the risk of losing their own). As the book wore on, housekeeper (the AI’s name) definitely had a more ominous feel that I could easily see being watered down a bit for a Goosebumps book! Super creepy.
In the nearly six years (eek!) that I’ve been reviewing books, I’ve come to learn that when I ramble it’s either because I really liked the novel or I really didn’t. I’m thrilled to say The Girl Before definitely falls into the former category. I tore through this book with ease, surprising myself even by how fast I got through it! After a record-breaking 200 books read in 2016, I wanted 2017 to slow down a bit and be more about savoring books. Whoops. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough! It also helped that each chapter was amazingly short. If you’ve ever read a Dan Brown or James Patterson novel, you know what I mean: bite-sized scenes that are, at most, two or three pages.
I was shocked to learn JP Delaney is actually a pseudonym for another author (there are rumors as to the true identity), but I am NOT the least bit surprised to hear film rights have already been purchased with Ron Howard directing. The Girl Before is hands down going to be THE book to read this year and I’m beyond excited to get in on the ground floor. While it doesn’t offer anything new to the genre that’s currently flooding the market (no complaints here!), it was, however, extremely gripping with an enticing plot and rapid-fire chapters. The moment I was finished I immediately sent out a text to my group of friends, practically flailing over this one and insisting they all read it once it comes out. Despite my hopes of taking things a bit slower this year, I’m thrilled to kick 2017 off with a bang and if this is how my reading year starts, I can’t wait to see where it goes next!