Before She Knew Himby Peter Swanson Published 05 Mar 2019
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Catching a killer is dangerous—especially if he lives next door
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? Or is this the beginning of another psychotic episode like the one she suffered back in college, when she became so consumed with proving a fellow student guilty that she ended up hurting a classmate?
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. . .
"Before She Knew Him" Reviews
This book was messed up in the best possible way!
This is my fourth book by the author and I think it's one of my favorites (with "The Kind Worth Killing"!).
The twists didn't feel forced, the story flowed nicely and the characters were intriguing.
FIVE STARS- UPDATE: Happy Book birthday TODAY to this yummy thriller!
You say Peter Swanson wrote it?... I say, yes, please, just give me that book! I don't even care what it's about. If Swanson writes it, I must read it. The man creates dark characters caught up in the most clever story lines you will ever come across in this genre.
I got no business reading this yet since it doesn’t come out for at least three months, BUT I COULDN’T WAIT ANY LONGER. And now that I finished it, my head is spinning and I just want to read it all over again. Very few thriller novels do I ever want to re-read, this is one of the first! There is such a great twist about ¾ of the way in…..I did not in a million years see it coming and now I want to go back and look for the clues…. ISN'T THAT THE MOST FUN?!!!!
Look up the term “psychological thriller” in the dictionary and I’m pretty sure Swanson’s face will be there. He has shown himself to be the true master of this subject with books like THE KIND WORTH KILLING and HER EVERY FEAR. What I love about Swanson is he takes a situation (like the quiet couple living next door to a nosy neighbor) and you think you know what is going to happen. But then, he turns that case upside down and heads the characters into a totally unpredictable direction. Brilliant. So very entertaining for the reader!
This book could deservedly have been called something like THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR, but there have been a slew of “neighbor” titles and I am glad he went with a different angle. Plus, that title is your first clue!
Hen is an emotionally fragile, young artist. She and her husband have just moved to a new house in the suburbs. They meet their next door neighbors at a block party and bond quickly as the only two childless couples in the hood. While dining at their neighbor’s house, Hen spots a fencing trophy in the den. This is a problem since it appears to be the exact trophy belonging to a man that had been brutally murdered a few years ago. Hen had developed an extreme obsession with the crime since it had occurred in her old neighborhood and the case had never been solved. This begins a kind of new obsession in Hen. She is convinced her new neighbor is a murderer and she sets out to watch and follow him. Did you read THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW? I was a tad disappointed with that one. This is the book I was hoping that one would have been more like. SO GOOD AND DELICIOUSLY TWISTED LIKE A PRETZEL.
Remember I said Hen is fragile? Yes, that makes her an unreliable narrator! Yippppppeeeeee. But, everyone in this novel is unreliable. I wouldn’t trust anyone in the bunch. That is all you need to know. Except this: Peter Swanson is the author and you are in capable hands. Now, just sit back and enjoy the ride!
If I’ve piqued your interest about Swanson and you have not read all his books, how I envy you! There are only a few of them, but each one is an addictive jewel. All dark suspense and exquisitely executed. You have time to read them all before this newest one comes out next year. I highly recommend each one if you are a fan of psychological thrillers.
Many thanks to the author and Edelweiss for my advance copy. All opinions are my own.
"They had a secret, the two of them, and there was no better way to start a friendship than with a secret."
Some seasoned Swanson readers are saying Before She Knew Him wasn’t as compelling as his other books. Well, that bodes well for me because I found this quite thrilling!
Speaking of thrills, Before She Knew Him is a thriller, not a mystery, if that distinction is important to you. There's no whodunnit because we know almost immediately who did it. Instead, the book is at times a game of cat and mouse, at other times a psychological portrait of justice and abuse. And I was so deeply sucked into this one that I totally didn't see it coming. I feel like maybe I should have.
The book mostly switches between the perspectives of Hen, her new neighbour Matthew, and Matthew's wife, Mira. After just moving into a new home, Hen and her husband Lloyd attend a dinner party at Matthew and Mira's house. All is going well; the four of them seem to get along and have chemistry. That is, until a tour of the house reveals an object that Hen recognizes. An object that stops her in her tracks and makes her feel faint.
From then on, Hen is convinced that Matthew is a murderer. Hen has had manic episodes in the past, intense paranoia brought on by her bipolar disorder, which have led her to believe people have been trying to kill her. So Lloyd is skeptical when she claims that their new neighbour is a murderer. Is this a sign her medication isn't working? Could what she saw be a coincidence? Her imagination?
Like all good thrillers, in my opinion, this is driven by an exploration of the characters. Hen is an artist and the darkness of her work offers a creepy undertone to much of the novel. Matthew, too, has a dark past that gradually emerges over the course of the book. Hen's digging into Matthew uncovers secrets not only about him, but about her own relationship.
The whole book is sinister and compelling. It also goes to some very dark places and I would caution readers who are sensitive to scenes of graphic violence, rape and abuse to look elsewhere.
I guess I can add Swanson to my must-read list for the future.
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Creepy, Captivating, and a little strange!
Before She Knew Him has a Rear-Window like quality with oddball characters and some huge twists. This is an intriguing psychological thriller about the very strange friendship of two neighbors.
“They had a secret, the two of them, and there was no better way to start a friendship than with a secret.”
When artist Hen and her husband Lloyd move to a quiet suburb outside of Boston, they are hoping to embrace the quiet life their new town has to offer. But their neighbors Mira and Matthew jolt them out of their reverie and draw them into a nightmare.
I was disappointed in Swanson’s last book, so I was hesitant to read this. However, I am glad I did! Told from the POV of Hen and Matthew (with a few others mixed in), their voices kept me glued to the pages! I found the tone of the book to be a little bizarre and cartoonish, but it worked for me. The plot is dark and twisted--I had no idea how things were going to play out. I also was surprised by one of the main twists. Overall, this hit the mark--it was suspenseful and kept me guessing. It was slightly over the top, but, at the same time, completely satisfying!
I received a copy of this book from a Goodreads giveaway!
”I didn’t know that blood could jump like that, almost like it wants to leave the human body, get as far away as possible. I’d read about it, of course, in books, and I’d seen it in movies, the way arterial blood will spray. But to see it in reality, to see the life of it, that was something...something I can’t even express in words.”
Henrietta Mazur will tell you to call her Hen because that is what everyone calls her. When people do that to me, force their nicknames on me, I have a tendency to ignore the suggestion, so Hen will be Henrietta for the length of this review, although if I hung out with her, had beers with her, I might have been inclined to call her Henry, but never Hen. Why would I call her a chicken anyway?
She is an artist, more specifically a children’s book illustrator, who is bipolar and on a host of meds to keep her from becoming manic. She is married to a man named Lloyd who seems steady and also attentive to her mental health. They have just bought a new house; she has moved into a new studio, and all seems right with the world.
Until the dinner party.
Their neighbors Matthew and Mira Dolamore, also childless like Henrietta and Lloyd in a neighborhood full of breeders, invite them over for an evening of getting to know the new people next door. Whenever I see couples with matching letter names, like Matthew and Mira, I think of a conversation I had with one of the local gossips here in town, who smugly told me that married couples with matching letters, hers were Cs, were much more likely to stay together. She must have felt comfortable confiding this observation to me because my wife and I also have matching letters. The Cs were divorced within a year.
There are no sacred rules, it seems, about happy marriage.
The dinner party actually went fine. The problem comes afterwards when the Dolamores are giving Henrietta and Lloyd a tour of their place. Henrietta sees something on the mantle over the fireplace in Matthew’s office that triggers a whole host of memories, a flurry of overwhelming thoughts, that turn her pale and feeling faint.
She looks at Matthew and sees….
There must be some mistake. She can’t possibly think this well regarded, mild mannered, school teacher is...a...killer? He does read J. D. Salinger, which makes him seem a bit more suspicious.
Or is this a manic episode?
Knowing that she is not a credible witness (there was an incident in college that makes anything she says questionable), she has to be sure that her suspicions are correct before she can go to the police.
She struggles to work on projects, even with deadlines looming. I gotta say, from a creative standpoint, if I thought a killer lived next door, I would probably be very unproductive. It would be hard to write, standing at the window all day, tracking the movements of my neighbor, binoculars in one hand, an aluminum baseball bat in the other, from morning until night.
Lloyd is supportive but skeptical. Soon a restraining order arrives, courtesy of the Dolamores. One could say things are getting out of control.
Following Matthew in the middle of the night is one of those illogical things that, as you read the book, becomes more and more logical.
Things are not working out. The police are not cooperating; they need proof, not supposition to actually condemn someone for a crime. Lloyd is becoming more and more worried and trying to stop her from becoming obsessed. Obsession is what leads to her mental meltdowns in the past. She can handle Lloyd. All she has to do is lie to him.
Maybe the best way to catch a killer is to become his friend.
The twists and turns are so unexpected that, if this book were a roller coaster ride, it would be condemned for all the passengers who arrive with broken necks at the end of the ride. Peter Swanson lulls me into thinking I know where he is going. He gives me a few key reveals, like tossing fish snacks to a hungry seal, and then he starts to unravel all that I thought I knew. The killer is at times booted off center stage as we start to discover that there are secrets nestled in behind other secrets.
Swanson never disappoints. His plots are compelling. His writing is stylish and cultured. He mentions books and actually tells us the authors and titles. I find that really annoying when an author writes that a character picks up a book and never tells us what it is. A warning to writers: a one star deduction for each infraction. I also don’t like it when I’m watching a TV show, and a guy walks up to a bar and says, “I’ll have a beer.” No one does that! If I am a bartender, and someone walks in and says give me a beer, I’m handing him the worse swill on tap. Swanson also keeps us informed of what music Henrietta is listening to. I queued up the music mentioned and listening to it as I read. Moreover, he turned me onto the soundtrack for the movie The Painted Veil, which is actually quite lovely.
Additionally, Swanson mentions food, such as a tomato and cheese omelet and Mulligatawny stew. I was texting my wife and saying, what do you think about having that Saturday morning and this Sunday evening?
Let’s just say I really get into my books, and I really immerse myself in every Peter Swanson. His books have settings and situations that, honestly, any of us could find ourselves in. Despite the modern settings, there are noirish, 1940s overtones that add a smoky atmosphere and attitude to his scintillating plots. You will frequently find yourself, while elbow deep in the plot, thinking to yourself,...what would I do if this was me? All of his books are terrific. They each stand alone so you can read them in whatever order you choose, but the important thing is...read them.
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Catching a killer is dangerous—especially if he lives next door
OMG! I was totally Gobsmacked by that ending. The author really fooled me. I was not expecting that, it was a big jaw dropping moment.
I thought it was clever. Another crazy thriller that had everything that I love in a thriller.
I really loved this book! Don't read the blurb, the best way to start this one is to go in blindly.
This was a fast paced read.
I thought this was just as good as The Kind Worth Killing.
This was a Traveling Sister read and it was a fun discussion.