Title: The Woman Before Me
Author: Ruth Dugdall
Publisher: Legend Press
Read: July 2015
'They came for me, just like I knew they would. Luke had been dead for just three days.' Rose Wilks life is shattered when her newborn baby Joel is admitted to intensive care. Emma Hatcher has all that Rose lacks. Beauty. A loving husband. A healthy son. Until tragedy strikes and Rose is the only suspect. Now, having spent nearly five years behind bars, Rose is just weeks away from freedom. Her probation officer Cate must decide whether Rose is remorseful for Luke's death, or whether she remains a threat to society. As Cate is drawn in, she begins to doubt her own judgement. Where is the line between love and obsession, can justice be served and, if so... by what means?
Cate Austin is a new probation officer at a women's prison, assigned with the case of Rose Wilks, a woman serving a six year sentence for allegedly causing the death of her friend’s four-months old son in a house fire. After having served four years of her sentence, it is up to Cate to recommend whether she should be eligible for parole. Investigating the background of the events leading up to little Luke’s death, Cate becomes emotionally involved in Rose’s tragic life story. With an unhappy childhood behind her, Rose’s search for love and acceptance leads her into an equally unhappy relationship with a man who is still pining for his ex-wife – a woman he freely admits he still loves and would leave Rose for in a heartbeat. When Rose falls pregnant she thinks she has finally achieved her dream of having a family and some hold over her partner Jason. But her baby is born prematurely, and later dies. Whilst Emma, Jason’s ex-wife, has just given birth to a healthy baby boy. When the two women’s paths cross, tragedy inevitably follows. But Rose has always denied any involvement in the child’s death – so who is telling the truth, and who is lying?
I admit that it took me some time to get into the story, as I found the topic and the characters equally disturbing. However, Rose’s story quickly drew me in and wouldn’t let me go, even long after I had finished reading the book. As much as I disliked Rose initially, I felt so terribly sad for her – born into a miserable family her life is lonely and sad as she is searching for love and acceptance from those around her. Her relationship with Jason is so dysfunctional that it made me cringe, and when she falls pregnant it is clear that this cannot end well. Told both from Cate’s perspective as well as from Rose’s “Black Book” entries (a type of diary she writes addressed to her partner), the story gradually unfolds to lead up to its tragic finale. The ending came as a shock and surprise, and I had not seen it coming.
All in all, the book kept me captivated till the end, and I found it equally suspenseful and strangely addictive, if disturbing. I can’t say I liked it (both the story and the characters were too dark and twisted for that), but recommend it as an intriguing, clever, thought provoking read. Dugdall obviously knows the prison system well and perfectly captures its atmosphere as well as its characters. Recommended to anyone who enjoys a suspense story with a different twist and unusual protagonists.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.