The Girl Before has major faults. It leans hard on one of my least favorite tropes in genre fiction, the 'My, you look strikingly like the previous Mrs. (insert name)!' that has been unavoidable since Rebecca, but should be permanently retired to Manderley. Jane’s backstory, involving a stillbirth, feels similarly cliché. The word 'Girl' is in the title. Most significantly, the mystery’s solution is an implausible mess. Yet for all that, the book has a great deal to recommend it. Delaney has created a genuinely eerie, fascinating setting in One Folgate Street, a house that radiates Monkford’s controlling presence ... Emma, who is somewhat unstable and also self-aware enough to understand how and why, is a fascinating character. The novel’s structure, volleying back and forth as first Emma and then Jane begin to question their improbable luck, is beautifully handled. The pages fly ... Its ending doesn’t erase the pleasure of its first three-quarters and its digressions on police procedure, anorexia, technology and starchitects feel well-researched and solidly founded, never improvised or flimsy. It’s worth a few hours of idle pleasure.
The Girl Before generates a fast pace with frequent cuts between chapters labeled 'Then: Emma' and 'Now: Jane.' And it milks suspense from matching scenes in which Emma and Jane do exactly the same things with Edward, who consciously sets up these parallels. That’s the good news. The downside is the author’s clumsy trickery. No spoilers here, but the novel’s denouement is improbable enough to have flown in from outer space ... The author, clearly writing with commercial success in mind, has used as many other familiar genre ploys as the book can hold ... Edward is very rich in ways that allow the book to indulge in both shelter and merchandise porn ... The book has more trouble bringing its women to life. We know about their past problems, their secrets and their reactions to Edward. But they never really emerge as strong characters ... Mr. Delaney intersperses ethics questions on stand-alone pages throughout the book. A fairly tame sample: 'You have a choice between saving Michelangelo’s statue of David or a starving street child. Which do you choose?' The unnerving ghoulishness of these questions hovers over the book, and the single most ingenious touch is that we’re not provided either woman’s answers.