The plots of Swanson’s recent psychological thrillers have sometimes been overly elaborate, or have ranged too far afield. However, in this, his fifth novel, the narrative trickery is bold but reined-in, and the action is confined to a patch of New England suburbia, evoked in John Updike-like loving detail. Here, as in all his best work, Swanson is equally beguiling when conjuring up the mind of a sociopath and the middle- class Eden that harbours him.
Before She Knew Him is Peter Swanson’s fifth novel, and it is deliciously good – dry, intelligent, perfectly paced, there is more than a touch of the Barbara Vines about the delicately played out, delectably dark relationship that develops between Hen and Matthew. Everyone keeps telling Hen she is experiencing a manic episode, but despite her name, she is no confused headless chicken. Hen is astute, matter of fact and determined, and this is Swanson’s best thriller yet
There’s not a trace of padding, and Swanson’s pacing is exemplary. He knows how to ration his twists and where in the narrative to place them, devoting just the right amount of time to exploring the ramifications of each new development before spinning the story off in an ominous new direction. And if a lot of what he’s doing is juggling around well-used tropes from suspense fiction, the way he does it is so smart and exciting that you’re just happy to get swept along by the compelling storyline and not stop to examine the nuts and bolts. Brian De Palma, or Hitchcock, were he still alive, would kill for the film rights.