Life Before, Carmel Reilly

Review Written By
Karen Chisholm

In her first full length novel for adults, educational and children's writer Carmel Reilly has delivered a crime fiction book that tackles sibling relationships and family secrets full on.

Set in two main timelines, in 2016 Lori receives a visit from a policeman to tell her that her estranged brother Scott is in hospital, seriously injured in a hit and run accident. Back in 1993 we meet Lori and Scott as teenagers, and discover the secrets that tore the family apart. Is it this that triggered the hit and run, or was it simply an accident?

Given that this is a crime fiction debut for Carmel Reilly, the writing and plotting of LIFE BEFORE is assured and extremely readable. It's also another one of these frequently occurring cross-over's between mystery and suspense set within a big family saga novel - these definitely do seem to have become the flavour of the month at the moment.

Dripping with tension and suspense, the multiple timeline works well, with the pacing of the release of past information nicely balanced against current events. The switching backwards and forwards is elegantly presented, not confusing or jolting the reader from the main storyline at all. There's the added bonus of 1990s small town Australia in the earlier timeline that will undoubtedly ring very true for many readers.

Peopled by really good characters, what made this novel stand out amongst what has become a rather crowded sub-genre was the sense of reality to the plot. It's all to easy to imagine going about your daily, mundane sort of life, after teenager events that rocked your world but seem to be safely tucked in the past, only to have everything explode in your face when you least expect it. How somebody would handle that, how you would make sense of it, and how you face up to the consequences, is really at the core of LIFE BEFORE.


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Suspense and family secrets surround a pair of estranged siblings in a compelling debut thriller.

She knew she should talk to him. But what was she to 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 now 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.

Review Life Before, Carmel Reilly
Karen Chisholm
Thursday, August 20, 2020

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