Sometimes you need to understand the past to have a future
When Elena meets Nicholas at her mother's funeral, she isn't looking for a relationship, but the two of them bond over their experiences of grief. Nicholas's wife, Amelia, drowned in a terrible accident and her body was never found. Elena falls for Nicholas and even moves in with him, but she finds it hard to compete with the memory of his beautiful, talented wife, who will never grow old and fat. As time goes on, Elena starts to see a darker side to Nicholas and wonders what really happened to Amelia.
The Wife Before Me is the latest thriller by Laura Elliot, the author of Guilty, Stolen Child and Sleep Sister. It is gripping and exciting, though not without its flaws. For the first third of the book, it felt like a romance novel, though the kind that sets the reader up to feel outraged at a male character's behaviour, usually in order to contrast him with the perfect man the heroine meets in the second act. You can rage at Nicholas' violence and gas lighting, and at his mother, Elena's overbearing mother-in-law, who bullies Elena to stop breastfeeding her baby at two months of age so she can get back to serving her husband's "needs". Then the book continues to get darker, as Elena becomes more and more desperate.
I thought the domestic violence aspect of the story was handled well. The scene at the beach, in particular, reminds me of a line paraphrased from Margaret Atwood; "men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them."
As the book went on I felt intrigued as to what had happened with Amelia (which is revealed in part in flashbacks), and how Elena could possibly get out of the horrible situation she found herself in. However, I really wish writers and publishers would stop feeling the need to give every thriller a "final dramatic twist", regardless of how unrealistic it might be. The Wife Before Me is a gripping psychological thriller about two women fighting to survive a violent man. I felt a little let down by the ending, but it is nonetheless a page-turner. It will probably appeal to fans of books like Paula Hawkins' Girl on a Train.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bookouture, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review