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Book review: 'Before She Knew Him' by Peter Swanson


"Before She Knew Him" by Peter Swanson (William Morrow, 320 pages, in stores)

A woman, a trophy and a haunting past. New neighbors threaten to surface old demons in Peter Swanson’s latest novel, “Before She Knew Him.”

Henrietta, also known as Hen, and her husband Lloyd are living a good life. They have a nice house in a good neighborhood, and Hen is finally on the correct medication to control her bipolar disorder. After years of struggling, she is finally at peace.

While having dinner with the new neighbors, Hen discovers a trophy that belonged to a boy who was killed two years ago. This was a murder case that captivated Hen; she never could stop thinking about it.

Once Hen sees the trophy, she suspects her neighbor, Matthew, might have been the murderer. Trying to prove his guilt and believing he might be up to something, Hen begins to follow Matthew. One night she witnesses something terrifying that will change both of their lives. Hen’s world is quickly turned upside down and she is living next door to a nightmare.

Bipolar disorder is one of a few heavy topics covered in this novel. Swanson does a good job of tackling the illness and illuminating some of the effects it has on a person. Readers see how difficult it is for Hen to live with bipolar disorder and how it affects the way people act around her when they find out about it.

While covering a darker take on mental illness, Peter Swanson managed to write a phenomenal thriller. “Before She Knew Him” is a suspenseful story with interesting characters. There are twists and turns on every corner, and Matthew is a very interesting, and slightly frightening, character.

I thought the novel was great and it kept me on my toes. There were twists I never saw coming, and Matthew and Hen were well written. “Before She Knew Him” reminded me of “Tear Me Apart,” by J.T. Ellison. Readers who are a fan of that book will enjoy this one.

While it is a good story, I did not care for some of the language, both dialogue and narration. I think Swanson could have toned that down. A couple of times I turned my head away from the book and grimaced.

I highly recommend this novel for adults who enjoy thriller and horror. It is an easy read and despite the language, I thought the story was great. It is so suspenseful that I could not stop turning the pages.

— Rachel McLemore, for The Oklahoman