Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Before She Knew Him – Peter Swanson

Crime Fiction
4*s

Often us booklovers are drawn to compare notes on the kinds of characters we like with broadly speaking divisions, those characters we like, we’d be happy to have them as friends, and those that you actively dislike. I’ve, in my more contemplative moments wondered why I am so happy to read about unlikeable characters, and I’ve decided that the authors who create these to populate their books tend to have other dynamics going on that make the likeableness of the character a bonus rather than a hinderance.

In Before She Knew Him there are unlikeable characters and to make things even harder the author has created a world, like he has in his previous novels, that is unlikely to exist but just likely enough to make the fiction only too believable.

Hen (short for Henrietta) Mazur and her husband Lloyd have recently moved house to a small suburb in Boston. They love their new house, they’ve left behind what appears to have been a few bad memories and Hen is now following her artistic path as an illustrator in the new neighbourhood. Their neighbours Mira and Matthew invite them for a dinner party. Hen, who has suffered with her mental health isn’t keen but Lloyd wants them to get out and mix. So they go and in one of those weird coincidences that occur in real life as well as novels, Hen makes a connection between Matthew and a victim of a murder who lived close to them in their previous home. What are the chances?

The book then takes on what could be a farcical turn, but doesn’t quite. Hen convinced that Matthew is in fact hiding some huge dark secret does what anyone would do in such a situation. Yes, she chooses to stalk her neighbour, whilst of course keeping this a secret from her husband, who is likely to worry far too much that she needs to go back to the doctor and have her medication altered.

In between this we see things from Matthew’s point of view. The only thing he is hiding from his wife is the visits his brother Richard makes to the house when Mira is out of town working. Mira has to travel a great deal for her work and Richard visits in her absence because she actively dislikes him – not surprisingly as we read excerpts from his thoughts, I’m sure most readers would decide to put him on the ‘not a friend pile!’

So all in all, exactly what you’d expect from a book by Peter Swanson. A bunch of weird characters, some less likeable than others followed by a somewhat bizarre scenario which is all rescued by some brash actions putting various people in danger of being discovered, followed and perhaps, given this is crime fiction, killed! And it was brilliantly pulled off. I didn’t want to put the book down, so engaged was I with what in the hands of a lesser writer would easily have been thrown against the ‘don’t be ridiculous’ wall.

I’d like to thank the publishers Faber and Faber who allowed me to read the experience that Before She Knew Him which will be published on 5 March 2019.

First Published UK: 5 March 2019
Publisher: Faber & Faber
No of Pages: 320
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Previous Books by Peter Swanson

The Girl with a Clock for a Heart
The Kind Worth Killing
Her Every Fear
All the Beautiful Lies

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Her Every Fear – Peter Swanson

Psychological Thriller 4*s
Psychological Thriller
4*s

The scene is set in Her Every Fear with Karen Priddy, a woman who had been subjected to a traumatic attack by her ex-boyfriend arranging to swap her flat in London for Corbin Dell’s apartment in Boston. Karen has been beset by anxiety ever since the attack and it is almost on a whim that she decides that the swap could be just what she needs, she can study illustration at the college there, and move away from the well-meaning but coddled existence she is living. Corbin Dell is a cousin, albeit one she’s never met before but they’ve exchanged emails in the run-up to the swap and almost before she knows it Karen is on the plane and into a fancy-pants apartment complete with a welcoming bottle of champagne.

Unfortunately for Karen, since she’s understandably of a nervous disposition a dead body has been found in a neighbouring apartment. Not ideal. but having come so far Karen is not about to turn tail, anyway a nice neighbour has introduced himself as has a former boyfriend of the deceased woman who turns up full of anguish make Karen curious and she begins to do some investigating of her own. With the police being in touch and there a few doubts about how well Corbin knew the deceased, Audrey, Karen has no qualms to prevent her snooping through Corbin’s cupboards and drawers to find out more about this secretive man.

Using four different points of view to examine the major scenes the reader is able to piece together much about each of the characters including how they appear to the others, and of course determine where exactly the truth lies. This is a clever method however it runs the risk that by the time the reader is onto the last person, the story is becoming a little repetitive in places, and as often as not, there are few surprises left. This device however does mean that this is a psychological thriller in what I like to think is the original meaning, this is about the psyche of a number of characters, guilty and innocent, rather than a reaction to a single event.

Peter Swanson is not one to shy away from complexity in his novels so not only do we have the multiple viewpoints we also have two major time periods with one section of the story stretching back to when Corbin was a student in London and of course he also throws in a mix of locations to ensure that he has all the major scene shifting arrangements fully in place. Being an exceptionally confident writer none of this complexity results in a muddled reading experience, all is crystal clear and clearly signposted and I suspect the repetition of parts of the tale actually help in keeping all the events in a clear time-line with the location and key characters fixed in the reader’s mind.

With the identity of the murderer pretty much confirmed before the half-way point you’d imagine that this book would lack some of the tension – not so, this is a seriously creepy book, more because of the characters and what the reader knows they are capable of which in turn actually ramps up the tension, sometimes to unbearable heights, as the drama unfolds.

This is principally a book about how psychopath’s operate, the real ones that live amongst us disguised as your neighbour, colleague or local MP and it is executed incredibly well. I’m not easily spooked but more than one of the people who walk among the pages of Her Every Fear had me feeling decidedly uneasy.

I’d like to thank the publishers Faber and Faber who granted my wish on NetGalley to read Her Every Fear which will be published on 12 January 2017.

First Published UK: 12 January 2017
Publisher: Faber & Faber
No of Pages: 352
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Previous Books by Peter Swanson

The Girl with a Clock for a Heart
The Kind Worth Killing