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before we metI’m assuming just about everyone read Gone Girl last year.  I did – though I’m one of the three people in the world that didn’t love it.  It never grabbed me – I could not get interested in either character, and didn’t care what happened to them.  Before We Met is built on the same “who do you trust? who are you really?” premise.  But instead of the back and forth of two narrators in Gone Girl (which I found unconvincing, especially the male voice), we experience this story through Hannah, a wife we largely trust and like.

The book begins on an evening when Hannah’s husband, Mark, fails to materialize in the crowd exiting Customs at Heathrow.  She’s worried, but perhaps there’s an explanation. After a few hours of watching planeloads of people greeting their loved ones, she goes home to wait.  A few hours later her imagination is in high gear and she’s making the kind of phone calls no woman wants to admit to.  Her nerves are not calmed when Mark calls the next day with an explanation to rival a Julia Child recipe. The reader knows something is amiss, but Hannah tries to keep hope alive. No such luck.

Whitehouse is a good writer who is not shy about giving us a straight-up, chick lit experience. Hannah and Mark meet cute, have an adorable wedding, and move into Mark’s flat outside of London. (To be honest, after reading the lavish descriptions of that flat, I’d put up with a lot of crazy explanations too.)  They wear good clothes, have successful careers and genial conversations in British accents, and go out to dinner with attractive friends.  What’s not to like?  Well . . . actually, quite a lot. Before you know it, you’re in a plot that rockets from one crazy scenario to another and pretty much doesn’t let up until the last page.  The reader is never out of Hannah’s head, which is the best choice Whitehouse could have made because it’s one many women will recognize.  Who amongst us has not let her imagination run wild on the slenderest of evidence?  And, if a male reader can get past the title, he’ll discover that some chick lit is worth the read.

The Attentive Reader will note: the book has almost all the earmarks of a classic Gothic novel: raging storms that bookend the story, evil men, a damsel in distress who doesn’t know who to trust, but does know she has to get out of that gorgeous castle to survive.  Alas, it is missing one crucial element of a true Gothic: it has neither the adorable pooch who comforts the damsel with its soft eyes and warm fur, nor the slavering canine with blood dripping off its dewlaps that really ramps up the terror.  But so what if it’s not Castle of Otranto?  It’s a good read on a wintry night.