Monday, 5 March 2018

Book review : The Woman Before Me - Ruth Dugdall

Legend Press are currently in the process of re-releasing some of their most popular titles from the past ten years, including The Woman Before Me. First published in 2010, it was Ruth Dugdall's debut novel, but she has since written six more. 

While most crime fiction focuses on trying to catch the perpetrators of awful crimes, The Woman Before Me focuses on the next stage. Rose Wilks has already been arrested, found guilty of manslaughter for her part in an accidental house fire that killed a baby and served nearly five years in prison. She is up for parole and her newly-assigned probation officer Cate must decide whether she remains a threat to society or has accepted her guilt and shown genuine remorse, in which case she could be approved for early release.

As Cate tries to delve inside Rose's psyche and past, visiting the people who know her best, the reader also starts to fit together the pieces of Rose's tragic life through a series of diary entries that she has made while in prison. From childhood trauma, beginning with the suicide of her depressive mother and a philandering father who swiftly moved his new woman in and packed Rose off to an elderly aunt, to new suffering from unrequited love and the heartbreak of losing a premature baby, Rose has had a lot to deal with. It's easy to empathise with her and see her as a victim, despite what she has done.

Rose has had one ally : Emma, another new mum she became best friends with (and regular babysitter for) after meeting her on the maternity ward. By a cruel twist of fate,  she turns out to be her partner Jason's ex-wife. An ex-wife he is still madly in love with, still seeing on the side and whose bouncy baby boy, born at the same time as Rose's own sickly son, strangely resembles. Emma already has the perfect family that Rose envies and she is determined that she won't also take away the one thing that Rose has managed to keep a tentative hold on: her partner Jason. Would this be enough to push her over the edge and make her do the unthinkable - the ultimate crime to stop her friend from having the happy-ever-after she craves for herself?

While the reader sees the events as they really happened, through Rose's brutally honest accounts, Cate can only work with second-hand information, half-truths and skewed interpretations : the opinions of Emma, her angry and bitter husband, Rose's macho case worker, her seemingly unstable partner Jason... She must make her mind up with what she has available to her, but will she come to the right conclusion? Rose has been in some bad places and done some awful things, but is she really a wicked, heartless child-killer or a victim of circumstances, pushed to breaking point by all the things she has had to endure?

It's a gripping and poignant read, which had me guessing right up until the end. Although Rose is the one doing the time, she actually came across to me as one of the least despicable characters. Cate has a secondary role in the novel, but she has great potential and reappears in Ruth Dugdall's subsequent novels. The author's own experience working as a social worker and probation officer in the Criminal Justice System lends weight and authenticity to the novel.

star rating : 4.5/5

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Legend Press; New edition edition (31 Oct. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1909593613
  • ISBN-13: 978-1909593619
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2.5 x 20.3 cm

Find out what other bloggers thought by following The Woman Before Me blog tour.

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.


  1. Sound like my type of book

  2. Hi Cheryl, what a great review. HOpe you share it over with everyone at Books You loved: March. Cheers from Carole's Chatter

  3. Sounds like a riveting and compelling read, with a tragic story and complicated characters.


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