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Customer Review

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a pleasant surprise, 20 Jan. 2014
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This review is from: Before the Fact (Arcturus Crime Classics) (Paperback)
I bought a remaindered copy of Before the Fact online hoping that it would be, as described, a psychological novel but fearing that it would be only a traditional cosy murder story filled with the usual stereotyped village dwellers. It is indeed a psychological study of the workings of a dysfunctional marriage and, even more, of a woman's deterioration. Or, perhaps, of her unmasking.

The plot has been summarised but to me the most striking thing about the story itself is its ambiguity: Readers might strongly suspect that Johnny, the husband, has caused the death of others but they can't be sure of it. This is partly because although the narration is 3rd-person all that transpires is shown from Lina's perspective, and given that she lacks insight and to some extent credibility, her perspective is a distorted one. Certainly Johnny commits other crimes--and just as certainly he comes do so with Lina's connivance.

That's one aspect of her deterioration: In the beginning an apparently naive woman with rigid moral standards, Lina becomes over the years willing to overlook and even justify crimes for the sake of holding on to Johnny. Iles gives the character such depth that one searches for her motivation: After being reared by parents who were forever reminding her of her plainness, does her self-esteem depend upon keeping so handsome and charming a husband? or perhaps saving face before the village is a factor? or--and as the story develops this seems most likely to me--perhaps Johnny is really more prize possession than a beloved partner?

And that in turn ties in with another element of Lina's decline, her ever more blatant disregard of others, going hand in hand with unjustified pride. (It's telling that the greatest pain of discovering Johnny's infidelities is that of hurt pride--he fails to seem jealous when accusing Lina herself of having an affair.) She takes an abominable deception of her sister in her stride, she treats a man in love with her very cruelly indeed, and by the end she's habitually barking commands and reprimands at Johnny. Far from being passive or abused, it's she who seems to have the upper hand in the marriage. Iles does a wonderful job of portraying these changes even whilst maintaining Lina's perspective thoughout; the clues to them are easily overlooked and in fact I suspect he might well have dropped clues early on that Lina is not altogether what she seems, ones that would jump out only on a second reading.

This isn't by any means a Great Novel but it's a good one with unexpected psychological depth. You'll be disappointed if you can't enjoy novels with unlikeable characters or if you regard it as a crime novel, or indeed if you're expecting the equivalent of a Hitchcock film; otherwise you might be pleasantly surprised by it.
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