Fiction - Kindle edition; Bloomsbury; 289 pages; 2014.
Lucie Whitehouse's Before We Met may just be the best £1.54* I've spent in quite awhile. Anxious to read something fast-paced and thriller-ish to get me over a reading slump (I would pick up a book, quickly get bored or distracted, put it aside and begin the process all over again with another title), I found this novel to be the perfect foil to a series of disappointing starts.
Told in the third person, but largely from the perspective of 30-something Hannah Reilly, it has a noirish psychological feel to it, a kind of cross between Helen Fitzgerald and Nicci French. I've since heard it billed as a British Gone Girl, which I'm not sure is a good comparison — that book might have been fast-paced and fun, but it was over written and had a ludicrous and unbelievable plot.
Before We Met does, occasionally, stray into the over-written territory (far too much unnecessary description and back story, for instance), but it never seems too far-fetched to be true. I read it with a growing sense of unease and a desperate need to get to the end as quickly as possible, just to see how everything panned out.
A husband's secrets
Set in modern day West London (and some very familiar locations, such as Hammersmith and Bishop's Park, to this reader), it tells the story of one woman slowly realising that the man she has married – after a whirlwind romance – may not be the fine upstanding citizen and successful businessman he purports to be.
The pair of them have a happy marriage — not surprising, given they've only been together for eight months — but the cracks begin to appear when Mark fails to arrive home after a business trip to New York. Could the plane have crashed? Could he have missed his flight? Why isn't he answering his phone or emails?
With Hannah's paranoia going into overdrive, she does some digging around, only to discover that Mark's work colleagues think he's in Rome for a romantic weekend. She's devastated by the prospect of him having an affair. She's even more devastated when she realises he's also done some "creative accounting" on her behalf.
From there, the fast-paced narrative swings from one revelation to another. All kinds of dirty secrets and blatant lies are uncovered, and the tension mounts to a nailbiting — and violent — conclusion.
Before We Met is not exactly rocket science and the characters aren't particularly well fleshed out, but if you're looking for a holiday read you could do worse than pack this one in your suitcase. It's a proper page-turner, with plenty of unexpected twists and turns, and bucketloads of suspense. I gulped it down in just a couple of sittings and stayed up late into the night to finish it, something I haven't done in a very long time.
* The price of the Kindle edition on Amazon during a recent promotion. The normal recommended price is £7.99.