When it comes to a mystery, is there any better setting than the English countryside? Something about the milieu continues to inspire stories of cunning crimes that readers just can’t get enough of. In the case of Before the Ruins, Victoria Gosling’s devilish debut, an abandoned English manor house sets the stage for a cracking mystery involving a missing friend, a long-lost diamond necklace and the secrets that tie the two together across decades.
When they were children, Andy and Peter were as thick as thieves, but their friendship has only tenuously survived their rocky transition to adulthood. So it is quite unexpected when Andy receives a frantic call from Peter’s mother informing Andy that he has disappeared without a trace. Andy reluctantly agrees to help, and her hunt for Peter leads her to suspect that his disappearance is tied to a game they played as teenagers with two other friends, Emma and Marcus. Andy has tried very hard to move on from her past, but it now seems that in order to find and reconcile with Peter, she must turn to their shared history for answers.
Through Andy’s eyes, we revisit the summer when, galvanized by the story of a priceless necklace that’s gone missing, the four friends played a recurring game of hide-and-seek with a replica of the diamonds around the grounds of a local English estate. Each was convinced that it would only be a matter of time before they stumbled across the real jewels. And perhaps they might have, had not the arrival of a charming stranger and subsequent shocking accident ended the game once and for all—and destroyed their friendships in its wake.
Though the main narrative is propelled by the mysteries of Peter and the diamonds, the true soul of Before the Ruins is found in its contemplation of existential themes such as grief, guilt, desire, friendship and loss. There are plenty of bombshells to titillate and thrill over the course of the story, but many of the most rewarding discoveries come not from the grand reveals in the final act but from moments when Andy gains depth and dimension through revelations of her most closely guarded secrets and memories.
Richly atmospheric and exquisitely written, Before the Ruins is wistful and haunting, hopeful and beautiful. Confidently contributing to the tradition of British mysteries, Gosling has delivered a tale that will satisfy fans of Tana French and Paula Hawkins.