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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Before she Knew Him by Peter Swanson

Henrietta (Hen) and Lloyd have moved to a quiet neighbourhood. They hope to lead quiet lives. They are reluctant to attend the neighbourhood party. But then, again, why not be sociable?

They meet their next door neighbours, Matthew and Mira. They are invited to dinner. During the tour of the house which ends in Matthew’s study, Hen’s gaze is drawn to an item displayed amongst a collection of assorted objects. She experiences an immediate intense anxiety which she tries to suppress. At the same time, she observes, Matthew appears nervous, he appears to be watching her intently.

This is the first step into the labyrinth of suspicion, obsession, conflict and deceit that the reader is drawn into.

This is the kind of thriller which has you turning the pages, reading into the night. Hen has had episodes of psychiatric illness in the past where she has become obsessive and delusional. Can we rely on her observations? Are her growing suspicions about her neighbour actual or is she in the throes of another psychotic occurrence?

Swanson creates an intricate and highly intriguing plot as he skilfully manipulates the unexpected twists in the plot and shifts between the various characters’ viewpoints and experiences. He draws parallels between the two couples; both are childless, both men are controlling, both women have been made vulnerable by abuse in their former lives. In addition he has created enthralling characters; Matthew, scarred by a violent father, Lloyd, who has secrets, Mira, who knows and seemingly condones her husband’s violent actions and Hen who is entirely convincing in her multi-layered complexity.

Nuanced, clever and suspenseful, I highly recommend Before She Knew Him.

Reviewer: Paddy Richardson

Faber and Faber, RRP $32.99


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