Before We Met by Lucie Whitehouse

For some reason, people seem to think I’m joking when I mention that crime fiction teaches you life skills, and although the novel Before We Met is more psychological tension than crime, all sorts of crimes take place in this page-turner which should appeal to fans of Nicci French. Lucie Whitehouse’s novel Before We Met is being compared to Gillian Flynn’s big hit Gone Girl–a book I had mixed feelings about. Before We Met is one of the most suspenseful books I’ve read in a while, and quite honestly, there were times when I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. So, if you’re in the mood for a distracting read–something that will take your mind off of something unpleasant, then this is the book for you.

before we metThis is the story of a young British woman named Hannah who’s been happily married to Mark for almost eight months following a brief courtship and marriage in New York. Thinking she could easily find work, she left her job as a successful ad executive and relocated to London with Mark when he closed his company’s  New York office due to downsizing. She’s been in London now for 5 months and enjoys a cushy lifestyle in Mark’s beautifully restored, pricey Victorian mansion. While the marriage is very happy, idyllic even, Hannah cannot find work. But no matter… Mark, whose remodeled home is worth a cool two million, makes plenty of money and is in the process of selling his company and pocketing a mint. When the novel opens, Mark is supposed to return from a business trip to America and Hannah drives to the airport to pick him up.

From this moment on, Hannah’s life is in meltdown, and the chaos begins with small details until ultimately she’s facing a tsunami of deceit.  Mark doesn’t show at the airport, he doesn’t call, and her anxiety turns into suspicion when both Mark’s business partner and his personal assistant let slip that they thought that Hannah and Mark were on a romantic weekend in Rome.  Hannah does what any rational person would do in this situation…. she begins snooping.

She had the feeling that there was something at the corner of her eye, just out of focus, something that didn’t make sense. It was like watching a film and knowing there was something in the plot that didn’t quite add up but not being able to put a finger on it.

The novel goes through Hannah’s memories back to the time she met Mark in Long Island through mutual friends, and the fact that they are both British working in New York may have been part of the attraction. Mark certainly seemed to make a point of seeking Hannah out, and to Hannah, he seemed wonderfully attentive when it came to learning all the details of her life. She should have shut up and asked a few questions of her own.  

There’s a very nice twist to this novel in the details of Hannah’s past. As a child, she caught her mother going through her father’s pockets looking for clues to his extra-marital affairs, and since her parents’ marriage subsequently broke up (something she’s never quite forgiven her mother for), Hannah has always said that she would never be that person. And we all know that when we start a sentence with “I’ll never…” well, like the Titanic which sailed with insufficient lifeboats, we’re tempting fate.  Hannah sees her mother as a woman whose insecurity precipitated the collapse of her marriage, so in response Hannah tends to want to give Mark the benefit of the doubt. Another nice twist here is that Hannah had past problems with men and was perfectly happy with one night stands that came with no commitment. Taken to task by her caring brother Tom, she felt proud of herself that she was turning a new leaf when she flung herself into a relationship with Mark, applauding herself for her ability to change direction and finally commit to an institution she’s leery of.

Those character details go a long way to explaining exactly how Hannah, an intelligent, educated career woman finds herself in the terrible predicament of wondering just who she married and how she ended up being totally dependent. She’s torn by a desire to know the truth, but at the same time she doesn’t quite trust her own judgment. Is she overreacting to the inconsistencies in Mark’s past or is there a simple explanation?

I’m not going to give away more of the plot because that would spoil the fun for the next reader. This is an intensely paced plot in which the tension just keeps building. There are a few plot holes that were never addressed, and the ending was a bit over-the top; I hate those Hollywood endings. Those minor complaints aside, I read this in two sittings and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Review copy

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12 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Whitehouse Lucie

12 responses to “Before We Met by Lucie Whitehouse

  1. It’s a bit unfair to compare Lucie Whitehouse and Gillian Flynn as whitehouse has been around far longer. I’ve read The House at Midnight years ago and while it had flaws I thought it wasn’t bad at all.
    This sounds like a book I would like a lot. So thanks for the review.

    • Over here, Caroline, Gone Girl is a huge hit, and her two novels Gone Girl and Dark Places are both being made into films. I will watch both. It was a foregone conclusion that someone would snap up the film rights to Gone Girl but evidently someone looked a bit farther.

      Ever since Gone Girl hit the shelves, it seems as though publishers have been scrambling to find ‘the next Gone Girl’ so many many books are released with the phrase ‘in the vein of Gone Girl’ or for ‘fans of Gone Girl,’ so in a way it’s funny that an author who’s been around longer is promoted on the coattails of a newer writer. But that’s fame for you. And I thought of you when I read this; I think you’d like it.

  2. Sounds like an intriguing one – I always like stories about people we believe we know well… and then it turns out they are quite different.

  3. Brian Joseph

    I do think that a poor ending might ruin an entire book me so I am not sure if I would be all that forgiving of that.

    I think that all good literature can teach life skills and without a doubt some crime fiction is good literature. Thus I wholeheartedly agree that it can teach life skills.

    • I wouldn’t say the ending was poor. It was just Hollywood. In a way, the final scene left me thinking about two of the characters because for a lot of the book you’re wondering who is the bad guy and who is the good guy, but of course it’s not that simple.

  4. It makes me think of a book by Douglas Kennedy. How is the style?

    • It’s well written, well-plotted. You would find it easy to read. She’s not experimental or a fancy stylist, but you can really believe that this woman got herself in this mess in spite of her intelligence, etc. Very very readable.

  5. It sounds fun, though I’m a bit nervous regarding plot holes and Hollywood endings I admit (particularly plot holes in what sounds like a plot-driven novel). Still, one for a long plane ride perhaps.

    • I didn’t think about the plot holes at the time; that came afterwards. As for the Hollywood ending, I wish you’d read it so we could discuss it. But yes this is a really good distracting read.

  6. acommonreaderuk

    Oh great – it’s on the Kindle at £2.99. I’ve bought it.

  7. Ahhh, the benefits of having a kindle….

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