Title: Life Before
Author: Carmel Reilly
Published: May 6th 2019
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Fiction, Crime, Mystery, Suspense
Rating: 4 stars
Suspense and family secrets surround a pair of estranged siblings in a compelling debut thriller.
Lori Spyker is taking her kids to school one unremarkable day when a policeman delivers the news that her brother, Scott Green, has been injured and hospitalised following a hit and run.
Lori hasn’t seen Scott in decades. She appears to be his only contact. Should she take responsibility for him? Can she? And, if she does, how will she tell her own family about her hidden history, kept secret for so long?
Twenty years before, when she and Scott were teenagers, their lives and futures, and those of their family, had been torn to shreds. Now, as Lori tries to piece together her brother’s present, she is forced to confront their shared past-and the terrible and devastating truth buried there that had driven them so far apart.
Compassionate, wise and shocking, Life Before tells the gripping story of an ordinary family caught in a terrible situation. What if the worst thing you can imagine isn’t the worst thing to happen? How do you go on? And what steps will you take to protect yourself from further pain?
Carmel Reilly may be new on the scene of adult fiction, but she has an impressive resume. A prominent leader in the field of educational writing, Reilly has also penned fiction for both young children and teens. In her first full length novel for an adult audience, Carmel Reilly tackles family secrets, retribution, the past and complex sibling relationships in Life Before.
Lori Spyker is performing an everyday task, taking her children to school, when she receives a shock visit from a policeman. The officer has news for Lori and this news will draw her back into the past, to confront a former life that she has tried to keep buried. Lori must now go to her brother Scott’s bedside, as he sits in hospital after being seriously injured in a hit and run. But Lori can’t remember the last time she saw her brother, years have passed in a blur. Now she must confront her painful past and reveal to her family the truth of family background. There are painful secrets that go along with this and Lori has tried to protect her family against this. Carmel Reilly’s debut tracks from 2016 and back to 1993. We meet Lori and Scott as teenagers. One terrible decision has a remarkable impact on their lives and that of their family. Lori must get to the truth, was her brother’s accident simply an accident, or is it the work of something more sinister – a message from the past? Life Before is a story to take on board with wide eyes and an open mind, knowing that a decision in the past can directly impact on the present. Sometimes the past is inescapable, no matter how hard you try to keep it buried.
Life Before is yet another impressive debut from a relatively new writer. Life Before marks Carmel Reilly’s first foray into the world of adult contemporary fiction. A cross between a family drama, a mystery and suspense novel, Life Before works as a strong domestic fiction title. Life Before sucked me right in and it didn’t loosen its grip until the final page was turned. I think once you make the commitment to read this novel you will find it extremely hard to release, it is a gripping read from start to finish.
I really appreciated the structure of Carmel Reilly’s novel. Flitting between the past in the year 1993, and the present day in 2016, works to draw out the mystery aspect of the novel. The pace is set to a perfect beat and there are plenty of questions, grey areas and twists to keep the reader engaged. Carmel Reilly has clearly directed a lot of her energy into maintaining the suspense level of her novel. The plotting is precise. Reilly’s timeline shifts are not jagged, they are smooth and transport the reader very easily from the past to the present. The shroud of mystery that surrounds the characters and the events of both the past and the present are handled well by Reilly.
When we travel back to the past we get a very good glimpse of small town Australian life back in the 1990s. I did find an immediate connection to these experiences and I particularly appreciated the way in which Reilly presented the dynamics of a small town, where everyone is into each other’s business. Reilly also highlights the difficulties of socialisation when residing in small towns. In addition, Reilly looks at policing in your own tight knit community. It is often difficult to face up to the hard moments when tragedy occurs, which is the case in Life Before.
Reilly’s characterisation is a strong point in this novel. Lori is a protagonist who is really just an ordinary Australian woman going about her life, in a very real sense. But we learn that Lori has a past that will catch up with her. I genuinely felt for Lori. I carried a similar feeling over to Pam, our guide in the 1993 based narrative thread. Pam’s perceptions, worries, anxieties and feelings were conveyed well on the pages of this book, thanks to Reilly’s emotive prose. I developed an attachment to both these lead characters and I found it hard to sit back and watch on as they went through incredibly tough situations. I won’t delve into this any further, as I do not wish to spoil the unfolding story for readers.
The end comes with a sense of clarity and realisation. Questions have answers and it made me realise how families and individuals can really be tested to their very limits. Such is life.
I hope there are more great things to come from Carmel Reilly. I would definitely encourage readers who enjoy a well crafted mystery, family dramas, domestic fiction and suspense to consider adding Life Before to their reading pile.
Life Before by Carmel Reilly was published on 6th May 2019 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Life Before, Carmel Reilly, visit here.
*Thanks extended to Allen & Unwin for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.
Life Before is book #83 of the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge