I have to give Swanson kudos – he has a genuine knack for writing books that I can’t put down. Whenever I finish one of his books, I’m immediately struck by his strong overuse of coincidences, his insistence that all men are obsessed with/only motivated by sex, and the fact that I didn’t really like anyone in his story… yet the writing is so gripping that I barely notice any of those things when I’m actually reading the book. Before She Knew Him is the third of Swanson’s books that I’ve read, and it was just like the others: completely addictive.
Hen and Lloyd appear to be a more-or-less regular married couple. They’ve just moved to a suburb of Boston. Hen has had a bad couple of years as far as her mental health goes, and is looking forward to a fresh start in a new space. She’s an artist and an illustrator, and has a new studio close to their new house.
By page 25, Hen and Lloyd have met and had dinner with their next-door neighbors, Matthew and Mira. While taking an informal tour of their house, Hen sees an item in Lloyd’s study that triggers a memory for her – she’s positive that it belongs to a young man who was murdered several years earlier, an unsolved crime that became something of an obsession for Hen. Hen immediately begins to wonder if she’s right – which means Matthew is actually a murderer – or if she’s imagining things. But here’s what Swanson does: he let’s you know, also by page 25, that Hen’s suspicions are completely founded. Not only did Matthew kill Dustin Miller, he’s killed others as well…
This book is a bit of a twist on the unreliable narrator concept, in that the reader knows that Hen is actually completely reliable, but no one around Hen fully trusts what she’s saying because of her mental health problems and her earlier obsession with Miller’s homicide. I thought that I might become rather bored with a story where I already know such a big part of the story, but instead I found myself completely racing through the short, snappy chapters, keen to see where things were headed, and becoming more and more horrified with Matthew. I also really appreciated that Hen did talk with the police instead of trying to do everything herself… it wasn’t her fault that they never quite believed her…
For me, the worst part of this book was the dreary insistence that literally every single male alive today is a cheating, sex-obsessed douche, and if you think that’s wrong, it’s just because you are too trusting of your man (who is actually a cheating, sex-obsessed douche, you just haven’t realized it yet). One of the “twists” in the story is where one of the characters is revealed to be a cheating on his wife… I would honestly have been much, much more surprised if it turned out he wasn’t. This plot device gets very, very old to me. I see it especially applied in thrillers, where apparently it’s too much work to write multi-faceted men, or even men who are decent people. So much easier – and trendier! – to just make them all terrible people. I’m really quite over it. As someone who is incredibly happily married, and has parents who are happily married, and grandparents who were happily married, and multiple friends who are happily married – I just really wish authors would stop acting like happy marriages are just made up of women who haven’t yet realized their husbands are already cheating on them.
In the end, a bit on the fence between a 3.5 and 4* read. There were several coincidences that played a pretty big part in driving the plot forward, the men were completely dreadful, and I felt like Swanson went one twist too far. But on the other hand, I basically couldn’t put this book down, and I’ll definitely end up reading whatever Swanson produces next.
My hold is coming up soon at the library for this one. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it, even if it had some issues. I must admit, though, that I do kind of believe all guys are cheating, sex-obsessed douches. Or at least 2 out of 3 haha.
lol well that sounds like a sad way to live, so I hope some good men come into your life someday. But yes, Swanson’s writing is so addictive that even when I get to the end and complain, I’m not actually complaining much during the reading lol
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Yes I have issues haha.
I’m keen to read this, even though I believe most men (well, the ones I know) don’t behave like the characters in the book 🙂
Swanson is very good at writing stories that just suck you in, but I’m mildly concerned that he appears to believe sex is the only thing that motivates anyone to do anything lol
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Well, maybe it is a motivator for some people, and understanding what makes people tick is fascinating!
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