The Girl Before by JP Delaney

The Girl Before Book Cover The Girl Before
JP Delaney
Thriller/Suspense
Ballantine Books
January 2017

Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life.

The request seems odd, even intrusive—and for the two women who answer, the consequences are devastating.

EMMA
Reeling from a traumatic break-in, Emma wants a new place to live. But none of the apartments she sees are affordable or feel safe. Until One Folgate Street. The house is an architectural masterpiece: a minimalist design of pale stone, plate glass, and soaring ceilings. But there are rules. The enigmatic architect who designed the house retains full control: no books, no throw pillows, no photos or clutter or personal effects of any kind. The space is intended to transform its occupant—and it does.

JANE
After a personal tragedy, Jane needs a fresh start. When she finds One Folgate Street she is instantly drawn to the space—and to its aloof but seductive creator. Moving in, Jane soon learns about the untimely death of the home’s previous tenant, a woman similar to Jane in age and appearance. As Jane tries to untangle truth from lies, she unwittingly follows the same patterns, makes the same choices, crosses paths with the same people, and experiences the same terror, as the girl before.

I like to avoid spoilers but in this case it’s not possible. Don’t worry, you’ll be clearly alerted to spoilers.

The Girl Before has a promising preview in its dust jacket. Two women at different times choose to live in a house so smart it is meant to improve their lives. Both Emma and Jane have experienced trauma and are looking for a fresh start. One Folgate Street appears to be just what they need. The landlord requires you to shed the clutter of your old life and live in the house under certain rules meant to remove the unnecessary materials you once thought you needed.

Do you agree to the terms and conditions of the rental contract? Terms and conditions gif

It would be lovely to have your shower recall the exact pressure and temperature you need when you step inside. Quite lovely to have your “Housekeeper” app alert you to your home habits and tips for your physical health. It would NOT be lovely to have your internet search access restricted (sound familiar to our current climate?). Not AT ALL lovely to have to open your home to the occasional tour of architecture students. Tenants of One Folgate Street shouldn’t be surprised by this privacy invasion, they’ve signed the contract with all of it’s ridiculous stipulations.

Certain features of One Folgate Street have been disabled …..

The house is an architectural marvel and highly sought after. It is affordable despite its extravagant technological features. There are no light switches, only five settings based on purpose that can be selected in Housekeeper. Housekeeper also recognizes who is allowed to enter the home. It trends your sleep and activity patterns. It is quite helpful until it shuts itself down for your weekly monitoring. For instance, Housekeeper will not allow you to shower until you have completed the intimate survey questions in full.

Emma would be the first to rent this smart yet crazy house and would (as we know from the preview) die in the house. Jane learns of Emma’s suspicious death after she’s already moved-in. Naturally it bothers her a little, but she chooses to brush it off. Plenty of people have died in their homes. Jane doesn’t become nervous about her tenancy until she discovers that her life is taking on an alarming similarity to Emma’s life which we know ended inside One Folgate Street.

Here they come. Spoilers ahead! Look out for spoilers!

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I’ll start with what worked in this book.

  • The function and structure of the house was pretty fascinating. I work in real estate development so I know that most of what occurred (no smoke detectors) would never actually be permitted, but this sleek house seems pretty futuristic and would draw awards.
  • The alternation in chapters between Jane and Emma. Some readers didn’t like this but I found it to flow just fine. I didn’t need to review which character each chapter was regarding.
  • The suggested suspects in Emma’s suspicious death. Of course we like to hook onto one possible suspect but the author suggests at multiple people and even suicide.

What didn’t work (for me at least)

  • I could elaborate on how often racial stereotypes are written into books but in brief, if you’re going to write a book about a bunch of white people it is not a good idea to only introduce two people of color and have them be criminal characters.
  • If one of your characters is told by the father of her child (on the day said child is born) that they should give it up for adoption and try again for a child they truly want, the mother’s reaction should be volatile. Not calm. She might be calm if she agrees but in this case she didn’t. For being such an “independent” type she really shouldn’t have acted like that was no big deal. That was a weak ending point in the story.
  • The application process for the rental of the house. I get it, landlord is a crazy freak. Despite that, no sane person would be willing to provide three photographs with their application. Is discrimination law different in the UK? If this is acceptable and normal then fine. According to the characters they found it strange but really wanted to be accepted for the house. I would be a firm “hell no”. The house isn’t that cool dude. This comes to make sense to the storyline but it just redflagged my brain like crazy.

Almost immediately I realized that I didn’t like any of the characters and only continued reading The Girl Before to learn true cause of death for Emma. I don’t enjoy a bad book review and won’t stretch this out much farther. I’ve discovered that Ron Howard is adapting this book to a movie. Usually when I hear about adaptions I can understand the draw for a movie. In this case, I think the book has issues that need to be resolved. I sincerely hope that casting is much more diverse and the script improves the story.

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