Before the Ruins

Before the Ruins, Victoria Gosling's whip-smart debut, is narrated by 38-year-old Andrea, a compliance officer at a London investment fund. She made something of her life despite a hardscrabble upbringing, but her past is still a strong presence in her life. As the novel opens, Andrea gets a call from the mother of her lifelong best friend, Peter: it's been four weeks since the woman has been able to reach her son by telephone. "My instinct was to cover for him," Andrea confides to readers, "only I didn't know what I was covering for." Her own attempt to find Peter proves likewise a failure, so she hires a private detective but keeps up her own search.

In addition to their decades of friendship, what bonds Andrea and Peter is an incident that took place nearly 20 years earlier at the abandoned manor where Andrea, Peter, two close mates and sometimes others would hang out. In 1936, a man died on the premises and a diamond necklace was stolen from one of the houseguests. Andrea and her friends made a game of it, taking turns hiding a paste version of the necklace and searching the manor's grounds and Clue-board rooms for it. This stopped the night their blithesome contest ended grievously.

Public sex, drug taking and a sexual abuse subplot are just some of the ways that Before the Ruins departs from the classic country-house mystery. Peter's disappearance is so engaging, readers may occasionally wish that Andrea didn't tarry so long in the past. If only she had a choice. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

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