A smart minimalist flat in a trendy quarter of London seems to be the perfect escape for a young woman recovering from a heartbreaking tragedy.
But Jane Cavendish’s dream home comes with the enigmatic owner’s 200 bizarre house rules, and turns into a place of nightmares when she discovers that the previous tenant – another young woman running away from personal trauma – died there in suspicious circumstances.
The Girl Before, a brilliant psychological rollercoaster with more twists and turns than a snakes and ladders board, is the work of JP Delaney, the pseudonym of an author who has written fiction under other names, and one of the most intriguing thrillers you will read this year.
And it is little surprise that the film rights of this dark, mesmerising exploration of obsession and deceit have already been bought by Universal Pictures, with Ron Howard of A Beautiful Mind fame lined up to direct.
‘Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life.’ The request from Edward Monkford, the techno-minimalist architect and owner of One Folgate Street in Hendon seems odd, and even intrusive, to the two women who answer his pre-tenancy questionnaire.
Reeling from a traumatic break-in, in which she was threatened with a knife, Emma Matthews wants a new place to live. But none of the apartments she sees are affordable or feel safe, until she hears about One Folgate Street.
The house is an architectural masterpiece, a minimalist design of pale stone, plate glass, and soaring ceilings and it has state-of-the-art security. But it comes with 200 rules and Monkford, who designed the house, retains full control… no books, no pictures, no rugs, no ornaments, no cushions and nothing on the floor at any time. The space is intended to transform its occupant, and it certainly does that for Emma.
Some time later, and after a devastating stillbirth, Jane Cavendish also needs a fresh start. She finds One Folgate Street and is instantly drawn to the space, and to Edward Monkford, its aloof, obsessive but seductive creator.
But when she moves in, Jane soon learns about the untimely death of Emma Matthews, the house’s previous tenant, a woman unnervingly similar to Jane in age and appearance. And 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 starts to experience the same terror as the girl before.
And as Emma’s past and Jane’s present become inexorably entwined, Jane starts to wonder if her own story will also be a re-run of the girl before…
Atmospheric, wickedly dark and sizzling with psychological tension, The Girl Before swings backwards and forwards between the lives of the two young women… both viewed by the reader through a prism of death, lies and secrets.
And as we pick our way through the stories of two possibly unreliable narrators, and a series of shocking revelations, the pace – and pulses – start to race, and the suspense mounts to breaking point.
But the star of the show is undoubtedly One Folgate Street… the stark, sterile pad with its white, soulless veneer, its buried secrets and its cold heart of death and darkness.
Clever, compelling and utterly addictive, this is a chiller-thriller that keeps its merciless claws in you right through to the stunning finale…
(Quercus, hardback, £12.99)