Chilling and heartbreaking, The Woman Before Me is a story of loss and grief with a hearty dose of misogyny.
The Woman Before Me by Ruth Dugdall
Although Cate Austin is the main character in Ruth Dugdall’s series, in this story she kind of takes a back seat to Rose Wilks who is currently serving time in prison for manslaughter after killing her friend’s baby. Allegedly.
Cate is just returning to her parole officer job after a six months absence and is being transferred to the prison where Rose is being held. She’s intrigued by the case and Rose’s insistence on being innocent, but her reluctance to provide further details that could help her getting parole is baffling.
As the author switches between the past and the present, the story is slowly revealed through Rose’s diary entries and we get to know quite a bit of her life. Neglected, orphaned at a young age, uneducated, emotionally unstable, she didn’t have an easy one, and then the loss of her newborn baby sends her spiraling into despair that is described so vividly, you can’t not feel her raw pain. But her boyfriend is standing by her throughout this ordeal. At least she has that going for her, am I right?
In addition to being a solid psychological thriller, The Woman Before Me also gives a great insight into the daily life of inmates in a British prison. It’s not nice, I must say. Don’t go to prison, guys! Lack of privacy, stupid schedules for literally everything and, you know, zero freedom could make the strongest of us go nuts a tiny bit.
Working in said prison doesn’t sound like a better deal either and Cate seems to be surrounded by a bunch of assholes for colleagues. There was not a single likable person there, save Paul, the other parole officer who is at least friendly, but nevertheless adresses Cate as ‘babe’ from the get go. The other prison officers call her ‘love’ or ‘sweetheart’, spread nasty rumours about her, and of course you get your obligatory violent piece of shit who finds joy in torturing the inmates for fun. Of course this is good for shock value, but doesn’t seem very realistic.
With slowly mounting tension The Woman Before Me is a highly enjoyable psychological thriller that packs a real punch with a ‘You did what now?’ twist at the end that ties up the whole story rather neatly.