This is not just another novel about a dead girl.
When she arrived in New York on her 18th birthday carrying nothing but $600 cash and a stolen camera, Alice Lee was looking for a fresh start. Now, just one month later, she is the city’s latest Jane Doe, an unidentified murder victim.
Ruby Jones is also trying to start over; she travelled halfway around the world only to find herself lonelier than ever. Until she finds Alice’s body by the Hudson River.
From this first, devastating encounter, the two women form an unbreakable bond. Alice is sure that Ruby is the key to solving the mystery of her life – and death. And Ruby – struggling to forget what she saw that morning – finds herself unable to let Alice go. Not until she is given the ending she deserves.
Before You Knew My Name doesn’t ask whodunnit. Instead, this powerful, hopeful novel asks: Who was she? And what did she leave behind? The answers might surprise you.
Written from the point of view of the dead girl – Alice – we know right from the start that she has been murdered. Just turned 18, her childhood has been hard. Her beautiful mother moved from place to place every year or two, running away each time a relationship failed. Alice has no roots. When her mother dies, she goes to live with a relative called Gloria, who frankly doesn’t care a hoot about her, but at least Alice doesn’t need to pass through the foster system or end up in care.
Ruby (who initially got on my nerves) is obsessed with Ash, who won’t let her go, but is eventually going to marry someone else. Ruby really needs to tell him where to go, but instead she leaves her hometown of Melbourne, Australia, to start a new life in New York, texting him constantly and hoping for what? Nothing is going to change.
And it is Ruby who finds Alice’s body, mangled and lying face down in the dirt, on the banks of the Hudson River. We see everything through Alice’s eyes. If she can stay close by to Ruby, maybe she can give her a push to help her find the killer.
Before coming to New York, Alice had an affair with her art teacher – Mr Jackson – who believed Ruby was already 18. He was more than twice her age. He started off drawing her, but it soon progressed to semi-pornographic photos, taken with an old camera that his late mother gave him.
When she tells him it’s her birthday and she will be 18, he realises he has broken the law, and Alice bolts with the camera and heads to New York to start a new life, lodging with Noah and his dog Franklin. Noah knows everything about New York’s history and culture and they soon become friends.
As I said, I struggled to warm to Ruby – her obsession with Ash is unhealthy and destructive, but she did grow on me. It is really when she meets Lennie, who ‘makes up’ dead people ready for open caskets, that she starts to open up and become more likeable. Lennie is just one of the friends Ruby makes through the aptly named Death Club.
I could go on forever about this fantastic book, but I am sure there would be spoilers and I don’t want to ruin it for others. I can’t praise it enough. It is so beautifully written, with stunning insights into love, loss, suffering and the human condition. Definitely one of my favourite books of the year so far. It will take some beating. I just wish Alice hadn’t died but then there would have been no story.
Many thanks to The Pigeonhole, the author and my fellow Pigeons for making this such an enjoyable read.
About the Author
Jacqueline ‘Rock’ Bublitz is a writer, feminist, and arachnophobe who lives between Melbourne, Australia and her hometown on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. She wrote her debut novel Before You Knew My Name after spending a summer in New York, where she hung around morgues and the dark corners of city parks (and the human psyche) far too often. She is now working on her second novel, where she continues to explore the grand themes of love, loss, and connection.