Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson
Published by William Morrow on March 5th, 2019
“They had a secret, the two of them, and there was no better way to start a friendship than with a secret.”
If you aren’t particularly a fan of reading mysteries and thrillers, I apologize. I’m trying to read a bunch of them right now because I feel like the summer is the best time to do it. Well, that and when it’s October and things get ~ spooky ~.
After being very disappointed with The Silent Patient, I am happy to report that I found another fantastic thriller! I actually already had very high expectations for this book since I loved The Kind Worth Killing by the same author.
Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson follows Hen and her husband Lloyd as they’ve settled into a quiet life in a new house just outside of Boston. Hen is a children’s book illustrator and is enjoying stability and peace after she’s found the right medication to control her bipolar disorder.
But when they meet their neighbours next door, that calm begins to erode as she spots a familiar object displayed on the husband’s office shelf. It’s the same sports trophy Hen recognizes that went missing from the home of a young man who was killed two years ago. Hen’s had an unhealthy fascination with this unsolved murder. She’s tried to move past it, but she can’t fully shake it.
So could her neighbor, Matthew, be the killer? Or is this perhaps the beginning of a psychotic episode like the one she suffered back in college? The more Hen observes Matthew, the more she suspects that he’s planning another murder. But nobody will believe her.
One night, she comes face to face with Matthew in a dark parking lot. He knows that she’s on to him. Catching a killer is dangerous — especially if he lives next door. And there’s nowhere for Hen to hide.
Before I get into the review, I should clarify that this is not a mystery. This is 100% a thriller novel. There isn’t a whodunit element because you know almost immediately who did it. Hello, it’s spelled out right there for you on the back of the book!
Instead, it’s a fun game of cat and mouse that has you on the edge of your seat from chapter one. Some scenes are so graphic that it gave me chills. It’s like when you watch Silence of the Lambs and your blood runs cold when Hannibal Lecter does that creepy noise with his mouth.
This book was such a step up from The Silent Patient. Like I mentioned in my review of the aforementioned, thrillers have to be made up of more than just a big, shocking twist. Swanson understands that. Before She Knew Him is driven by an exploration of the characters. Hen is an artist whose dark and eerie work offers a creepy undertone to the book. Matthew has a dark past that we gradually see more and more of over the course of the book. Hen and Matthew’s obsession with each other allows them to discover secrets about the other, but also about themselves.
Swanson’s writing is also fantastic. The plot is brilliant, and his writing is entertaining and gripping. I love that he can take a very simple situation, like a couple living next door to a nosy and clever neighbour, and turn it upside down.
I can never predict where his plots will go or what his characters will do. He’s great at making you think you’ve got the plot figured out. And then he starts to slowly chip away at that confidence when he unravels everything. His books make me want to immediately reread them to see where he dropped clues to the big reveal. Which, by the way, I had no idea was coming. I had to reread sentences to confirm that what I read was real!
His writing is compelling and very engaging. He’s very descriptive without being over-the-top about it where you become bored of reading about the contents of someone’s medicine cabinet *cough* Stephen King’s It *cough*. But he tells you what music Hen is listening to. I ended up queuing up the music while I read. I looked up the books and authors that he mentioned in the book too. It’s all great at adding to the sinister undertone to the book.
If you’re looking for a fast-paced thriller, look no further. This one will have you dreading when you have to stop reading to go eat dinner or run errands.