Review Time: Before She Knew Him

“I had two lives before I met Henrietta Mazur, both of them simple, with their own comforts and rewards. And from out of nowhere she’s come along and turned those two lives into one. One complicated mess of a life.”

As Henrietta and Lloyd get settled into their new house in their new suburban town, they find themselves over at their neighbor’s house for a get-to-know-you dinner. It’s everything Hen, who is fresh off a bipolar diagnosis and manic episode, could have wanted — nice neighbors, potentially good friends, quite little life. But during a tour of Matthew and Mira Dolamore’s house, Hen notices something on the mantle that throws everything she knows into disarray. You see, during her most recent manic episode, Hen become engrossed in the unsolved murder of Dustin Miller, a high school student who happen to live in their former neighborhood. Hen knew Dustin’s case inside and out, so when she spotted what looked suspiciously like the high schooler’s missing fencing trophy in the Dolamore’s basement, she grew concerned. So concerned, in fact, that she went to the police. But here’s the thing. Hen had a history of unchecked bipolar, which unfortunately led to a few troubling accusations while she was in college. So while Hen was increasingly convinced that her neighbor Matthew had something to do with Dustin’s murder, there wasn’t a single person at the police station who would take her seriously. So, Hen decided to take the situation into her own hands. Which, generally speaking, is rarely a good idea. Who is Matthew Dolamore? Why does he have Dustin’s trophy? And what will Hen do to track down the answers she so desperately wants?

Before She Knew Him was my BOTM club pick for March and of course it suckered me with a tagline of “Catching a killer is dangerous — especially if he lives next door.” I mean, c’mon. And it was good. But I will say that it was a little slow. The whole beginning premise is that Hen wants to find out IF Matthew killed Dustin. Which, spoiler, she finds to be true in the first handful of chapters. So you know that Matthew is indeed a killer and there’s two-thirds of the novel left. I will admit that I spent a good 100 pages trying to figure out what the rest of the book could possibly be about. Eventually, though, things pick up and by the end, the spooky, icky, creep-o factor is out in full force. There’s a major twist in there that I am still thinking about — one of those twists that makes you say “well shoot, now I might have to start all over again and pay attention to the little cues I know I missed the first time.” All in all, Before She Knew Him was a fun read. Might not be the first book I reach for when someone asks for a recommendation, but something fun nonetheless.

My favorite scene: I liked the scenes towards the middle of the story in which we are first formally introduced to Matthew’s brother Richard. Richard is that oogey, creepy character that keeps murder mysteries alive. The character that you love to hate. His introduction brought back some zip into the story, and though what he does in those opening scenes is a major spoiler (and thus my lips are sealed), trust me when I say he’s a major shithead. And I was there for it.

Grade: ★★★☆☆

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