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on 9 January 2011
I have to begin this review with a caveat. I rarely read crime fiction, so know little about the conventions of the genre. Nevertheless this book was highly recommended to me so I thought I would break with habit and read it. I'm glad I did.

THE WOMAN BEFORE ME was instantly engaging and kept me gripped throughout. I'd go so far as to say it's unputdownable. Partly this is due to the clear and precise prose, partly the carefully structured and controlled plot. Not a great deal happens (if you're looking for lots of murders or car chases I suggest you pick up something else) yet the author manages to take the ordinary lives of people and make them truly captivating.

The novel's greatest strength is Rose Wilks. She narrates the majority of the book in flash back and despite being a convicted child killer emerges as a complex but sympathetic - ultimately even tragic - character. Ruth Dugdall has written her with great psychological insight and captures Rose's descent into obsession with chilling precision. I found myself desperate for Rose to do the right thing and yet simultaneously understanding her needs, even empathising with them. It's quite an achievement and left me disturbed long after I had put the book down.

This is an impressive debut and I would recommend it without reservation.
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on 13 March 2011
Crime novels are 'not my scene' so this is a book I would not have read had it not been selected for our book club. I am glad it was.

At one level, The Woman Before Me does not sit easily into the crime genre ; for me, one of its great strengths is that it is a study of loss - all types of loss - and particularly the conflicting emotions that loss engenders in women. In particular, two women are contrasted - one a superficial woman whose life revolves around the ephemera of our time, and the other a deep, insightful but impoverished spirit, who sinks further into obsession as the story progresses.

Ruth Dugdall draws her characters with consummate skill, using her personal experience as a Probation Officer in a women's prison to bring them to life. She holds the reader's atention through to the end, with its horrifying twist.

I have no hesitation is recommending this to any reader.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 January 2012
What a cracking tale. I haven't come across this author before, but the reviews looked interesting and I was gripped from the start.

Dugdall's narrative flows along at exctly the right pace; she builds tension as the story develops. The narrative reveals an ear for detail; it's authentic and I would say draws on personal experience of prison life and attitudes. The macho, sexist chauvinism is particularly well observed.

The central character is a sorry individual. One trying to make the best of a poor lot in life. Her obsessive behaviour takes over leading to appalling consequences. She is a deeply flawed individual, but manipulative and cunning in the extreme. Her way of exacting revenge on those she hates is both rational and irrational.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, polished it off quickly because it was completely engaging and on the strength of that, bought the next in the Cate series. That's shaping up well too! Go for it.
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VINE VOICEon 21 June 2011
This novel has been described as a "psychological thriller", and while it is certainly psychological, it didn't feel to me to be much of a thriller. It tells the story of Rose, who has been jailed for killing the baby of her friend Emma. Emma has everything Rose would like; beauty, a lovely husband, home and baby; while Rose's own life has been hard. She has had a relationship with Jason, Emma's ex-husband, and has managed to hang on to him, despite his continued infatuation with his ex-wife, because Rose too becomes pregnant.

The story begins with Rose coming up for parole, and Cate, her probation officer, looking into her case and making her decision on whether or not to recommend the parole. The suspense, such as it is, rests on whether or not the parole will be granted, and more importantly, what really happened. Did Rose kill Emma's baby? And if not, who did? I found the final denouement very disappointing, and the writing generally didn't grip me as it has other readers. Another (small) point lies with one particular piece of grammar. People are repeatedly described as being "stood" or "sat" (eg "he was stood at the window") when the correct word should be "standing" or "sitting", and for me, this jarred. I fail to understand how these errors - small as they are - got past the author's editor.

I found this a good enough read, but I'm afraid I wouldn't recommend it.
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on 23 August 2010
Ruth Dugdall is a young British crime-writer who uses her career in the Probation Service to stunning effect in "The Woman Before Me".
This is a bleak, dark psychological thriller, at times quite hypnotic. It is a tragic story of two young mothers linked by the horror of the death of a child, and a third mother, a Probation Officer, who has to show the judgement of a Solomon. The prison system does not come out of this with any honour - prison warders of both sexes are brutish and cruel - nor do men in a more general sense, but this is a thriller about women and women who want only to be good mothers, as they see it. With most psychological thrillers, you just know something terrible is going to happen. With this one, the reader discovers the most terrible crime already has happened. A far-from-relaxing read, this is as bleak as its coastal Suffolk setting, but gripping and powerful.
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on 10 March 2012
I would have enjoyed this book more had it not been absolutely littered with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. 'Parole board' is singular, the most irritating of all the mistakes, which runs throughout the entire book but which is bizarrely correct near the end. They can't even be consistent with the errors!

The story itself isn't particularly thrilling, either. The use of Rose's 'black book entry' is tenuous at best as a mode of telling the tale. There were bits that featured and should have gone somewhere but were rendered inconsequential by not being mentioned again. The characters are not likeable in any way, yet there's a sense that the author is trying too hard and in doing so, missing the mark. I figured out the majority of the 'great mystery' before the end, though the final twist was unexpected - and totally ridiculous, the cherry on the cake of a rather dull and incredibly irritating read.
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on 25 January 2012
I wasn't a huge fan of this book but my biggest beef is how little the publisher invested in the editing and proofreading processes. It is absolutely full of spelling mistakes, typos and other errors that any halfway decent proofreader would have picked up. I started marking them in pencil then gave up halfway through as I was starting to treat the whole book as a proofreading exercise. Worryingly, some errors recurred so often that it was clearly not just typos but someone lacking the basic knowledge of grammar and just not knowing it was wrong. What a shame: everyone's book deserves to be as good as it can be. If I were the author I would be fuming. And publisher, take note: the past tense of "lead" is "led".
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on 2 June 2016
I did find this book very easy to read but there was a lot about it that I didn't like. I found all the characters unlikable and dysfunctional. The general tone of the book was rather seedy. The encounter with the nurse towards the end of the book was so unrealistic. Could anyone recognize a 3 or 4 month old baby that they'd only seen a few times previously as a newborn? I don't think I'll bother reading anything else by this author.
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on 21 July 2011
I wouldn't really describe this book as a thriller. The only suspense which the reader is held in is whether or not Rose will get probabtion and also whether or not she actually did commit the crime of which she protests her innocence.However the story is not wholly based on these 2 questions but more on the story of 2 mothers, one (Rose)who looses her baby shortly after birth and Emma who apparently has everything including the love of Jason. The writing is stylish and flowing although the story does drag on at times with unnecessary detail.
We are taken back to Rose's previous life through a series of flashbacks. The reader is made immediately aware that Rose has lead a difficult life and has had to deal with many hardships. Emma on the other hand has had it easy in comparison.
The probabtion officer who is assigned to Rose's case and who decides whether Rose should get probabtion begins to examine her own life and her shortcomings as a mother.

On the whole a well written insightfull novel, but absolutely not a thriller.
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on 3 November 2011
This is a book you have to finish - yet do not want to end. As the novel continues you develop empathy for Rose as her back story un folds - but also get an insight into her psychopathology. Cate the probation officer, is a more two dimensional character and I would have liked her character to have been more developed which would have added to the interest. The novel could have been longer and this is where Cates story could have unfolded. I remain puzzled as to the reason she made the decision she did - I do not feel there was enough explanation or exploration of Cates reasoning.
The other main characters are well described by the voices of Rose and Cate - giving different perspectives on each of them.I loved the twists in Roses little black book and the way the author timed each revelation before changing to Cates story. I would
thoroughly recommend this book and look forward to reading more from the author.
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