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THE WOMAN BEFORE ME
by Ruth Dugdall
Arcade, May 2013
274 pages
$22.95
ISBN: 1611458358


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It's little surprise that this engrossing psychological thriller was the winner of the Crime Writers' Association's Debut Dagger Award. From the first page until its final conclusion, THE WOMAN BEFORE ME will draw readers into the story of Rose, a woman now imprisoned for causing the death of her friend Emma's baby.

There's, of course, more to the story than meets the eye with Rose. She is in a state of grief over the loss of her own child just days after his premature birth. Also the death was the result of a careless cigarette, which led to a fire at Emma's home. Is Rose just the unfortunate victim of fate, or is she a cold-blooded murderer?

While Cate Austin, Rose's new probation officer, is finding her way around the prison and its dysfunctional crew, she's also trying to reach the best decision when it comes to Rose. Is Rose ready to admit her guilt and reenter society? It's clear that Rose has been on the receiving end of some bad breaks, first and foremost the death of her own mother at a tender age. How do these prior events shape and mold

her into the mother she has become herself?

This tightly controlled storytelling is an asset to the unfolding of the mystery, and Ruth Dugdall's prose is deliciously descriptive in all the right places. She lends insight not only into the mindset of her characters, but lets her readers experience for themselves the settings in which she places those flawed characters.

This is an engrossing story, but more than that, it is a book that is a pleasure to read. While some will find themselves unsatisfied by the book's brevity, Dugdall is able to create a more compelling tale with far more psychological depth in fewer pages than many more experienced mystery writers can in far longer novels.

It is also a testament to her skills that Dugdall is able to provide a surprise ending, saved for the very last moment. This is not a book one soon forgets, and it is one well worth passing on to anyone who admires great technique.

Christine Zibas is a freelance writer and former director of publications for a Chicago nonprofit.

Reviewed by Christine Zibas, June 2013

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