|Date Published||03 November 2016|
Before I Let You In
Even though Karen is an experienced psychiatrist, nothing could prepare her for the day she opens her door to Jessica.
Bea and Eleanor, Karen’s best friends, are going through their own problems. Eleanor has just had a baby and can’t pull herself together. Bea is feeling inadequate in her man-free, boring-job life. But they are still finding time to organise a surprise birthday party for Karen. With an unexpected promotion and a surprise birthday party in the offing, Karen will soon be reaping the rewards of her dedication to her work and kindness to her friends.
But life is not perfect. Michael, Karen’s long-term partner is never with her at the weekends. Worse, she can’t share the reality of his absence with her best friends. But that is soon to be the least of her problems when she sees Jessica with Adam, Eleanor’s husband …
The worst thing about reading a book by a debut author is it might be good. It might be so good that you want to crack open another of that author’s books before coming up for air. Instead, you are obliged to wait, hoping the author doesn’t go back to his or her day job. Before I let You In is one of those books. Jenny Blackhurst is one of those authors.
The chapters swing between Karen, Bea, and Eleanor in the past tense, third person point of view, and the criminal in the past tense, first point of view. The frequent point of view changes push the story forward. Adding to the intrigue and suspense are occasional short chapters written in the style of interview transcripts between Karen and presumably another psychiatrist. These are written in the present tense, and with atmosphere pouring from the transcribed dialogue, the reader senses impending tragedy from the opening scene.
Karen, Bea and Eleanor are three close friends with three distinct lives. Although their voices, at times, are a little similar, Blackhurst has nailed their thoughts and behaviour artfully. We know, or we are, those people. We know or feel what they are going through. She peels off their layers with tantalising subtlety. Moreover, she portrays the criminal beautifully as a multi-faceted diamond throughout her internal and external degeneration. She shows, with finesse, the criminal’s turmoil, leaving the reader wondering how far this person will go.
I enjoyed Blackhurst’s writing style. Her voice is clear and precise yet not intrusive. The sentences are straightforward, not flowery. Her attention to detail is excellent, and her foreshadowing so wily that I almost wanted to re-read the book to fully appreciate her art. It is rare the final pages surprise me. This book truly did throw in an unexpected twist.
That is not to say there were not shortcomings. I would like to have seen more depth in Karen’s moments in the psychiatrist’s chair. I felt this side of her was well researched but slightly superficial. Also, there was a lack of sense of time and place. The milieu did not stand out; it took me about half the book to appreciate we were in Shropshire. And although, at times, I had the impression the plot was over a short time-frame, at others I was unsure if the gap between events was days, weeks or months. However, these points did not destroy my overall pleasure, because even with the timing issue, Blackhurst made this a fast-paced suspense novel by her liberal use of that critical ingredient – suspense.
I am sure if I were to meet a knife-wielding killer in real life, I would run for my life, screaming. Unfortunately, when I meet him in a story, he is more likely to make me roll my eyes than break out in a sweat. Even if the blurb tells me I will not be able to turn the light out when I close the book. But little events; objects disappearing, a feeling of being watched, inexplicable noises, disturbing conversations, awkward questions and glimpses of desperation and deviant behaviour, those will have my pulse racing. Because they are relatable, disturbing and real. I have experienced many if not all of them, as have most readers. Throw those events in from the first page and keep hitting the crescendo button, and the suspense is exceptional.
For readers who crave suspense; feast on Before I Let You In. It is a gourmet meal, and for me, far more satisfying than The Girl On The Train, because added to the suspense, this author made me care about her flawed and, in certain cases, hateful characters. Congratulations, Jenny Blackhurst, I am going to charge up my Kindle and download your e-novel, How I Lost You, hoping this book is not a one-off.
Reviewed 04 March 2017 by Kati Barr-Taylor
Kati Barr-Taylor lives in her ‘cosy pigsty’ in the Dordogne. She satisfies her literary cravings by translating, writing, editing and reading.