Book Review: The Girl Before

I'll say one thing for this story: it's a page turner. I finished it in a day. I quite enjoyed the first half of the book, but in the second half it went from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde. It surprised me, and not in a good way. By the end of the book I was more confused than anything.

The story revolves around an architectural masterpiece, One Folgate Street, that is rented out by the control-freak architect to young women who remind him of his dead wife. For reasons beyond my comprehension, this control freak is named Edward. If you're familiar with the Christian Grey/Edward Cullen origin story, you'll already know what kind of character Edward is just from his name. While naming a character like this Edward could be considered a clever shorthand for character development, it's mostly annoying, given that this Edward fails to live up to the craziness of his predecessor(s). That's ultimately my big complaint with this story: it failed to deliver on expectations.

The premise is decent. The setup was great. The alternating chapters between Emma, the girl who lived in the house before and is now dead, and Jane, the girl who's living in the house now, were a great way to build anticipation. We see the mistakes Emma made by getting involved with Edward and then see Jane repeat them. The implication, of course, is that Edward killed Emma and that Jane is next. Spoilers: that's not what happened. Which is fine. It's just that what actually happened is so simultaneously out of nowhere and all over the place that it effectively ruined the story's strong first half.

Over the course of the story we're led to believe a great many things that turn out to be not true. These things include not only the expected red herrings, but the unexpected reveal that Emma is a pathological liar and we can't believe anything she says. There was no setup for this. It's out of the blue. There's a fine line between crafting an unreliable narrator and deceiving your audience, and I felt deceived.

That's where things went off the rails for me, though it didn't stop there. It turns out Jane was lying too, about something so bizarre it didn't even feel like a reveal, and it turns out the killer is exactly who you thought it was. Because of course he didn't delete his access code to One Folgate Street, and of course he's such a technical genius that he outsmarted this super-smart house. The last half of the book was so packed with plot twists that the effect was lost, and I was left dizzy with confusion, not awe. I think there were just too many half-followed plot threads for the story to be delivered effectively, but damn if it didn't have potential.