It’s rare when a house feels like one of the characters in a novel, but that’s exactly the case with the house at One Fulgate Street in JP Delaney’s thriller The Girl Before. Delaney switches back and forth between Emma, the girl before, and Jane, who is in the process of moving into the house at the start of the book. Both women end up moving into the house after suffering through bad experiences. Emma is raped during a robbery at her previous residence, and Jane is looking for a new home while recovering from having a stillborn child.
The house is the work of an eccentric architect named Edward Monkford. He has designed the house to be a sort of high-tech yet minimalist living experience. There are loads of rules for living in the house. There can be no clutter. Occupants of the house are allowed few possessions. The wifi system is specific to the house and limits what residents can search for. As you can see, there is a lot of control on the part of Edward over his residents and this becomes a bigger issue later in the book. Most challenging is that there is an application process just to live at the house, but it is tempting as occupants are allowed to live there rent free. With skyrocketing London real estate prices, Emma and Jane both decide to apply, in part because they have few other options.
Since this is a thriller, there are some dark undercurrents in both Emma and Jane’s stays at the house. Jane eventually finds out something happened to Emma and starts investigating. Emma turns out not to be the innocent person she initially portrays herself as. There is also Emma’s ex-boyfriend Simon, who still comes around the house when Jane has moved in. Is he caring, sad, or could he even be dangerous? The constant switching back and forth between Emma’s and Jane’s points of view is done very well by Delaney. Tension builds throughout the book as we find out a little more about each of their stories, but the plot remains easy to follow. This is an inventive thriller that might be too dark for some readers, but others will find it very rewarding and entertaining.