Updated: Mar 30, 2020
Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson is a run, roller coaster of a thriller novel that combines a protagonist with mental health issues and an unreliable "boy who cried wolf" past with a potential serial killer living next door. The story is intriguing and keeps you turning the pages to uncover the truth.
Hen and her husband Lloyd live in the Boston, MA suburbs, where Hen is a artist and book illustrator. Hen suffers from bipolar disorder, but has found a way to manage it through the right mix of medication and her artistic outlet. During a block party, Hen and Lloyd meet their next door neighbors, Matthew and Mira. During an innocent dinner party, hosted by Matthew and Mira, Hen notices something in Matthew's office that sends her mind down a rabbit hole. Hen swears that Matthew has an artifact that belongs to a boy who was murdered, but cannot quite prove it to Lloyd and the police. Hen's obsession with her neighbor Matthew begins and sends her down a path of uncovering if he is the serial killer she thinks he is.
Hen is an interestingly flawed character who has a dark side of her own that comes through in her artwork. Her fascination with a previous murder is what sets her off at Matthew and Mira's house. She is almost certain she spotted a trophy that news outlets had mentioned in a previous, unsolved murder. Hen goes down the rabbit hole and begins her own investigation on Matthew. She has had a previous mental health crisis, so her husband, Lloyd, is sensitive to when she starts to get obsessive with things. Her fascination with their neighbor sets alarm bells off in Lloyd's head that Hen is possibly having another manic episode. Because of her past, Hen struggles to find anyone who believes her and puts stock into what she says. Hen follows Matthew one evening and witnesses something horrific that sets the story down a dark path.
Before She Knew Him is a suspenseful novel keeps you turning the pages to uncover who Matthew really is and if Hen's suspicions are accurate. Swanson's writing is witty and concise, with short chapters that keep the story flowing quickly. He did not get bogged down with the details, but times, I felt like the story was stretched a bit and included information that did not add anything to the story (i.e. I don't really care to learn what the character's ate for dinner...) The protagonists in the story were interesting and both flawed in their own way, that almost made the killer likable. I got major Dexter vibes with this book (He's a killer, but he's a decent guy and only kills people who "deserve" it.) I did enjoy that aspect of the book. I enjoy a fun spin on a thriller by having a "likable" bad guy.
What makes me love thrillers are the twists and turns that the author takes you on. Though Swanson has some surprises along the way, I did not feel like they were completely shock worthy. I also felt like the story was rather predictable. I thought overall that the book was a fun read, but is not one of my favorites. I gave Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson ★★★.5 stars.
I have heard raving reviews on other books by Peter Swanson, particularly The Kind Worth Killing. I want to give that one a go soon, but are there others I should put on my radar?