Book Reviews

Book Review: Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson

Book Review: Before She Knew Him by Peter SwansonBefore She Knew Him by Peter Swanson
Published on March 5, 2019
Genres: Mystery, Fiction, Thriller
Links: Buy on Amazon | Goodreads
Pages: 309
Format: Hardcover

Source: Book of the Month

Catching a killer is dangerous—especially if he lives next door

Hen and her husband Lloyd have settled into a quiet life in a new house outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Hen (short for Henrietta) is an illustrator and works out of a studio nearby, and has found the right meds to control her bipolar disorder. Finally, she’s found some stability and peace.

But when they meet the neighbors next door, that calm begins to erode as she spots a familiar object displayed on the husband’s office shelf. The sports trophy looks exactly like one that went missing from the home of a young man who was killed two years ago. Hen knows because she’s long had a fascination with this unsolved murder—an obsession she doesn’t talk about anymore, but can’t fully shake either.

Could her neighbor, Matthew, be a killer? Or is this the beginning of another psychotic episode like the one she suffered back in college, when she became so consumed with proving a fellow student guilty that she ended up hurting a classmate?

The more Hen observes Matthew, the more she suspects he’s planning something truly terrifying. Yet no one will believe her. Then one night, when she comes face to face with Matthew in a dark parking lot, she realizes that he knows she’s been watching him, that she’s really on to him. And that this is the beginning of a horrifying nightmare she may not live to escape.

Henrietta Mazur is an artist most commonly known for drawing disturbing paintings and etchings. She now works as a successful children’s book illustrator. Recently, she and her husband, Lloyd, relocated to a new neighborhood for a fresh start. Who knew that Hen’s dark tendencies would lead her straight into the mouth of a serial killer?

Do you know that saying about “never really knowing your neighbors”? It doesn’t quite apply here in Swanson’s methodical novel Before She Knew Him. The thing is, Hen’s entire problem is that she does know her neighbor is. She figures it out before anyone else can.

What do you do when you learn the man living no more than yards away from you is a murderer? That is the basis of this novel, and boy did I enjoy going on the journey for the answer to that question.

I have never read Swanson’s work before, but he has a new fan in me now. I sometimes shy away from reading novels written by men in this genre, particularly when they have female protagonists, but I was pleasantly surprised by Hen’s character. She doesn’t fit into the typical hard-drinking, edgy, women we’ve come to expect from psychological thrillers. She felt fully-realized and developed, as did all the other characters.

Yes, I did figure out the direction this book was going pretty early on, but I attribute that as a credit to the author. I will always choose to unfold a story where the twists and turns genuinely make sense over one where the sole purpose is to shock me. I don’t mind when I figure it out before the end if it is well-executed and this story is.

Authors who are adept at foreshadowing know how to render a palpable twist that will still engage you even if you do manage to solve it ahead of time.

I snagged this book a couple of months back when it became available from BoTM, and I’m delighted I did. I only regret taking so long to read it!

Book Reviews

Book Review: Carmilla by Kim Turrisi

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Carmilla by Kim TurrisiCarmilla by Kim Turrisi, Shaftesbury Sales Company
Published on May 7, 2019
Genres: Fiction, LGBTQ+, Young Adult, Fantasy
Links: Buy on Amazon | Goodreads
Pages: 224
Format: ARC

Source: NetGalley

An adaptation of Shaftesbury's award-winning, groundbreaking queer vampire web series of the same name, Carmilla mixes the camp of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the snark of Veronica Mars, and the mysterious atmosphere of Welcome to Nightvale. Newly escaped from the stifling boredom of a small town, college freshman Laura is ready to make the most of her first year at Silas University. But when her roommate, Betty, vanishes and a sarcastic, nocturnal philosophy student named Carmilla moves into Betty's side of the room, Laura decides to play detective. Turns out Betty isn't the first girl to go missing? She's just the first girl not to come back.

All over campus, girls have been vanishing, and they are completely changed when (or if) they return. Even more disturbing are the strange dreams they recount: smothering darkness, and a strange pale figure haunting their rooms. Dreams that Laura is starting to have herself. As Laura closes in on the answers, tensions rise with Carmilla. Is this just a roommate relationship that isn't working out, or does Carmilla know more than she's letting on about the disappearances? What will Laura do if it turns out her roommate isn't just selfish and insensitive, but completely inhuman? And what will she do with the feelings she's starting to have for Carmilla?

I have heard quite a bit about Carmilla over the years. I’ve yet to get around to watching the web series, and I don’t know much about the history behind Carmilla, I was primarily interested in this book because of the romantic relationship between two women. I thought if I got into the book, I could check out the web series after (I tend to read before I watch).

But unfortunately, I didn’t make it far into this book before deciding it wasn’t for me. The writing style is far too condensed, and the author tends to tell rather than show. I didn’t feel a distinctive voice for any character, and therefore it failed to grip me.