Book Review: The Girl Before, JP Delaney

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The perfect opportunity. A dream come true. The most quaint little dwelling could be all yours, everything you’ve ever imagined from your first house. Sure, the owner is a bit of a kook and there are ‘rules’ to abide by when living there – but how sinister could it be? People have lived there before, right? What could possibly go wrong?

JP Delaney blends mystery, drama and romance in an interesting tale told in two different time periods (seems to be a bit of trend these days, eh?). One side of the story told in the present, using Jane as the narrative – a young professional recovering from a recent tragedy and wanting to start a new life. The second side of the story is told from the past, from the viewpoint of Emma. Emma and her boyfriend Simon are looking for a new place to stay after a shocking incident at their current place involving Emma forces them to look elsewhere.

One Folgate Street looks like the perfect setting to recoup and start again for both these women, who’ve been through enormous pain in the months prior. It’s picture perfect, and technologically more advanced than anything seen before. The house is owned by genius Edward Monkford, who’s company has been pushing the boundaries of architecture for years. Monkford believes that architecture and psychology go hand in hand – that the way you live your life and your surroundings has a direct impact on your behaviours. With this in mind, he ‘recruits’ (for lack of a better word) specific individuals to inhabit his residencies, and those he chooses must go through a stringent set of questions, meetings and quizzes before being accepted. Once accepted the house maid (an AI program) controls amenities via tablet – the occupant must answer daily life questions based on mood, thought and opinion to ensure these amenities stay available. It’s an interesting building block for the plot that is slowly unravelling.

As the story of Jane is told from the present – the ending to Emma’s story is known. Emma is found dead at the bottom of the staircase inside One Folgate Street. It appears accidental, a mere slip after stepping out of the shower and coming downstairs. Tragic, yet creepy. Jane ignores this, and coupled with the creepy undertones that lace every word Monkford says – we have ourselves a neat little thriller. Did Monkford kill Emma? Why? Can he be trusted? As Jane begins to ask questions about the girl before (see what I did there?), more and more truths come to light – and it’s plainly obvious there’s more to Monkford and One Folgate Street than is first apparent!

Delaney has a fairly basic writing style. He must be applauded for attempting to delve into the intricacies of technology and architecture but it’s only to a certain level. Instead, he focuses on the dramatic and emotional aspects. It works – but his attempt at a ‘50 Shades Of Grey‘ and ‘Gone Girl‘ mash-up is a little hard to swallow.

The characters are good, and well developed, but Delaney’s biggest flaw in the writing is building up a particular character’s story arc for so long that we’re sure there isn’t any other options as to how the story would end – before completely dismantling it and overwhelming the reader with too many new options which never seem plausible. It was extremely disappointing how things started to fall apart when Delaney tried to write in a few twists and turns. To me, the best twist is one you don’t see coming the first time, but the second time you wonder how you missed the clues. In this case, we are fed all the information in the final third, leaving the preceding two thirds to dust.

I did enjoy the book, but perhaps I’ve become too critical in judging crime thrillers. The fact that the house itself plays such a critical role in the plot is new and exciting, and the advanced technology factor did interest me throughout. There are plenty of relatable human emotion chapters, where characters are faced with questions that the average human would be faced with themselves, and this did improve the enjoyment for me. It felt real, like pages out of a journal.

In the end, however, I was simply left confused as to the structure of the book and why we would waste so much time. To me, the twist wasn’t a twist – it was a half-hearted attempt at being shocking. Ultimately, given what we had read prior, it was totally unbelievable. Give us options, then surprise us.

3.2/5

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