Title: Life Before
Author: Carmel Reilly
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 6th May 2019
Synopsis: Suspense and family secrets surround a pair of estranged siblings in a compelling debut thriller.
She knew she should talk to him. But what could she say? Once there had been blame to apportion, rage to hurl. Now she no longer had a sense of that. Who knew what the facts of them being here together like this meant. What was she to make of the situation? Scott lying unconscious here in this bed, unknown to her in almost every way. She a wife, a mother, but in her mind no longer a sister. Not a sister for a very long time now.
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?
Life Before opens in 1993, with a country cop, Senior Sergeant Des Robinson has to attend an accident, with one fatal, and many injuries on the backroads of Northam. It is a tragedy that will touch many families and turn the lives of two in particular upside down, leading to a mystery about the fate of one family that is slowly revealed as the book goes back and forth between 1993, when the accident occurs, and 2016, where everything slowly comes out.
In 1993, Pam and Mick are living a normal life in Northam with their kids, Scott and Loren, both still at school and with promising futures ahead of them. One day, a terrible accident changes all that and Northam is never the same again. Months later, the town has to contend with another tragedy tearing a family apart.
In 2016, Lori is married, with two kids, and on her way to drop them at school when she’s informed her brother has been in an accident. He’s in a coma, and she’s listed as his only next of kin. at this point, we discover that her parents and oldest brother, Simon, are all dead – the big question is how and when. At first, Lori keeps Scott a secret from Jason. They’ve been estranged for over twenty years, since the tragedy that tore their family apart. Yet soon, their lives, and the lives of Lori and her husband Jason, will unexpectedly intersect and the mystery, crime and tragedies that made Lori who she is, will unravel and come to light.
In a compelling mystery, Carmel Reilly reveals how a tragic accident can change the lives of a normal family, and an entire community forever, and lead to even more tragedy that drives two family members apart for two decades. It is about how a decision can change everything. Throughout the book, the two mysteries – the one in 1993, and the one that leads to Lori and Scott reuniting in 2016, are told in a way that a little information is revealed each time, yet not too much: Carmel Reilly holds back on what we really need to know until the climax of the book, like all good mysteries. It is compelling, and I wanted to read on to find out what had happened. It also ran at a decent pace: not too fast, so everything was resolved neatly, but also, not to slow so things dragged on. This is where going back and forth in what seemed like parallel mysteries worked well.
Throughout the novel, the reader is constantly wondering what happened with the accident, what happened to Lori’s family – how did they die, and when did they die? All clues point towards something unforeseen and that Lori has been on her own – apart from Jason and their kids – for a very long time. The hints are there that something awful happened, something that she feels she cannot talk about. Yet it is the careful and deliberate peeling back of the layers of the two crimes involving Scott that has made this novel a compelling and engrossing story, and a mystery well worth the read. Where some mysteries show the fracturing of a marriage due to the secrets one spouse has kept, Reilly holds Jason and Lori together, showing that both have had something rough to deal with in this case and life. The mystery really opens up and heats up when Jason goes to the ICU with Lori – what comes after this reveals much more than anticipated and even quickens the pace a little, but not too much.
Unlike most mysteries that end in a nice, clean resolution of an arrest, here, whilst we find out what has happened, this one has a unique ending. The crime may be solved, but there is still more to come for Lori and Jason, and Scott off the page. All in all, a very compelling read for crime and mystery fans.