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Having become disillusioned with my kindle (I MUCH prefer reading 'real' books) and having recently rediscovered the local library, I am currently working my way through my Amazon wishlist of books which I'm getting from the library (mostly ordered in from other local libraries) rather than buying them. I am saving an absolute fortune and getting to read some really good books.
"The Woman Before Me" by Ruth Dugdall was on my wishlist having been a recommended book based on other books I've bought/rated on Amazon (thriller types mainly), and I was fairly confident that it would be an enjoyable read.
The book itself doesn't have a particularly inspirational cover - gloomy and grey, with a picture of a wedding dress and some flowers (it's only after reading the book that I note its significance). It says on the cover that the book is winner of the Luke Bitmead Novel Award, and Winner of the CWA Debut Dagger Award.
The book was published in 2010 by Legend Press. Its rrp is £7.99 (although I borrowed it free from the local library), and has 288 pages. There are no extras in the book (such as author interviews or extracts from other books) but personally I prefer this as I can see exactly how much I have left to read.
Rose Wilks is in prison having served over 4 years for killing a baby. She is up for parole, and probation officer Cate Austin has to decide whether or not to recommend Rose's early release. Although found guilty of manslaughter, Rose maintains her innocence of the crime. It is difficult to show remorse for a crime when you maintain that you didn't commit that crime.
The book begins in the past with what happened that tragic night and the trial which led to Rose's incarceration. Then we move on to now, with Rose in prison, and Cate's new role at the prison and her developing a relationship with Rose.
A lot of the chapters (perhaps half of the book) are entitled "Black Book Entry", which are written journal style (or like as a letter to her partner) and in these we learn about Rose's childhood (which was far from easy), transition into adulthood, and how she met the man who she loved more than anything, who fathered her child. Over these entries we gradually build up a picture of what happened - firstly to Rose's own child Joel, and then the build up towards Luke's death. It is clear from the outset that Rose had an unusual relationship with baby Luke, and with Luke's mother Emma. As the Black Book Entries are written in the first person (the rest of the book is written in the third person) we really get an insight into Rose's character, and the difficult experiences which she faced in her childhood, and then as an adult going through the horrendous experience of losing a child.
For the most part I found the main character Rose fairly likeable (despite her crime), and wanted to find out more about her life and what led to the events. With the chapters written in the first person, Rose was the character which we learnt the most about, and whose perspective things were seen from. The other characters (Emma and Jason in particular) were mostly seen through Rose's eyes.
I didn't particularly warm to the character of probation officer Cate (interestingly I see that Ruth Dugdall has worked in the criminal justice system as a probation officer) - not sure why, I just didn't really like her or her attitude. Perhaps because her character wasn't as well developed as it perhaps could have been if the book had been a little bit longer? I don't know.
For the most part, the prison staff were not likeable characters at all, and the book didn't do much for my confidence in women's prisons in Britain.
Although I don't try and guess what is going to happen in books (and when I do I'm generally wrong), for the most part I did find this book fairly predictable. Although there was a little twist right at the end I didn't find it particularly surprising. It wasn't one of those books which left me thinking "Oh my God, I did not see that coming", nor was it one of those books which left my mind spinning and thinking about the themes raised long after the book was finished (despite the emotive themes I wouldn't say that the book stirred any very strong emotions in me - it certainly didn't make me cry). The book did also seem to end quite abruptly.
However, it was a very easy book to read. Although it wasn't impossible to put the book down, I did read it in less than a day (mind you, at 288 pages it wasn't a long read), and I was eager to find out what happened.
It's not the absolute best book I've read lately (but then I have read a lot!), but I did enjoy it. I have already requested one of Ruth Dugdall's other books (she has written three books in total) "The Sacrificial Man" from the library!
It can currently be bought new on Amazon for £5.95 (paperback), £3.99 on the kindle, or you could save money and borrow from the library like I did!
8 out of 10 from me.