Monday, May 29, 2017

Peps' Reading List: The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

A thriller seemed like a good choice after my re-read of American Gods. Neil Gaiman's Americana opus was (and always will be) a great read, but something I needed to follow up with a completely different kind of reading material. And The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney and its book cover caught my eye easily enough when I was perusing my reading list. I had a feeling it was going to be an easy read but wouldn't be short on entertaining.

One Folgate Street is an architectural marvel, with an ultra-minimalist design that's underscored by technology that adapts to its tenants. And with the rent priced at what you can afford, it's no wonder a lot of people want to call it home. Yet, actually living there comes with certain conditions. First, you have to pass a rigorous screening test, which includes answering questions that are definitely psychological in nature and, for the lucky few, an actual interview with the house's architect, Edward Monkton. If you're lucky enough to actually sign a lease, there's a whole lot of instructions and rules that you have to abide in order to continue living in One Folgate Street. It's a lot of trouble for a rental, but, for some people, it's a symbol for a new start. Emma and Janet are two such people, with their individual traumatic experiences that drove them to find a new place to live in. Both called One Folgate Street home, with Emma living there a year prior to Janet, and both find out that the apartment holds secrets that are hard to ignore.

There are two things that will immediately pique your interest with The Girl Before. First, the book cover perfectly portrays the minimal aesthetic of One Folgate Street, its starkness intriguing and definitely enticing for individuals like Emma and Janet who are looking for a fresh start. It was interesting to see how the setting was going to play a part in the overall mystery of the story. And part and parcel of the place is getting to know the intriguing builder, Edward Monkton, who is all about order and building an experience out of living in such an austere place.

The second element that drew me in was how the story was structured, with alternating chapters in Emma and Janet's voices, depicting their experience in the apartment a year apart from each other. Their experiences in the apartment, despite having different personalities and different experiences they both have to cope with, eerily mirror each other, revealing mysteries about One Folgate Street and its architect. And both women find it hard to ignore those mysteries, especially when it means finding more about Edward, he of particular tastes and undeniable magnetism.

The Girl Before isn't really designed for drawn-out readings, with author J.P. Delaney keeping each chapter short, while peppering them with enough intrigue to keep us turning the page. Not everything is as it seems... the house, its builder and the women that ended up living in it... and it was fun trying to figure out where all the mystery was going to lead me to.

The book isn't perfect in its telling, though. It felt like the author was trying too many things at the same time, with the dual and parallel narratives, the high tech setting that should have added to the overall feel of the book, and a male character who was meant to cut a dashing figure but seemed to be merely a play on stereotypical difficult geniuses who are incapable of having a normal relationship. But the glimmer of potential in all of the things J.P. Delaney is attempting to weave together to create a compelling mystery keeps you reading, especially when she keeps everything moving at an excellent pace.

At the end of the day though, it's the mystery that defines the story and, while I was never sure what that mystery was until the end, my interest never waned even when I found myself picking at the story's flaws. There's something compelling about the secrets of One Folgate Street and the women Edward Monkton ended up choosing to live there. You would be hard-pressed to keep yourself from making guesses... I know I made my own more than once throughout my reading. Yet, still, I found myself surprised at the book's end.

And that's what a fun mystery read is really all about. Especially if a quick read is what you're aiming for.

Happy reading!

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