No one is going to claim that Peter Swanson repeatedly writes the same book. With his fifth novel, Before She Knew Him, he once again takes some familiar tropes and alters them just enough to make them feel fresh. The connective tissue linking all of his novels is this deep understanding of the complex dynamic between men and women.
Before She Knew Him begins with Henrietta (Hen) and Lloyd moving to a new home on the outskirts of Boston. Despite wanting an isolated life, they accept an invitation to dinner at their neighbor’s house. Mira and Matthew seem like nice people, but when Hen is given a tour of their home, she notices a trophy on the bookshelf that looks remarkably like one that went missing after the notorious killing of a young man years earlier. Hen becomes convinced that Matthew is a serial killer and that their house is decorated with souvenirs from those murders.
Trouble is, Henrietta is bi-polar and has a long history of becoming obsessed with ideas like this – to the point that sometimes she can’t function in everyday life. With medication and a focus on her artwork, Hen thought she had her OCD under control, but this interaction with Matthew reignites the unhealthy fire.
Meanwhile, alternating chapters let readers into Matthew’s world. It seems that Hen might not be too far off track with her suspicions and since Matthew noticed Hen’s reaction to that trophy, he has begun stalking her, trying to discover if she has discovered his darkest secrets.
Throughout the novel, the line between hunter and hunted is in constant flux with readers knowing more than both characters at critical moments. But Peter Swanson is a skilled storyteller and there are still more things that he cleverly obfuscates from the reader allowing for some startling revelations late in the novel.
Before She Knew Him is a fast and cinematic read that will certainly keep readers invested through to the end. With two unreliable narrators, Peter Swanson hooks readers with their journey but also keeps the action relatable without sacrificing the suspense. There is no telling what Peter Swanson will deliver in his next novel, but you can bet it will probably be a fascinating read highlighted by destructive gender dynamics.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.