A high-tech town house is leased by its control-freak architect to a series of women who look just like his dead wife.
“Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life.” “A person close to you confesses in confidence that they ran someone over while drunk. As a result they have given up drinking for good. Would you feel obliged to report it to the police?” Agree or disagree: “I try to do things well even when others are not around to notice.” These questions are part of the rental application for the house at 1 Folgate St., an ultramodern property that comes with “about two hundred stipulations”: no books or magazines, no pets, no rugs, no cushions, no children, nothing on the floor at any time, and so on. Compliance is monitored by sensors and cameras, by a cleaning service, and by regular inspections. The entire environment is automated, with an application called “Housekeeper” controlling everything from shower pressure to internet access. Who in their right mind would want to live here? Emma and Jane, that’s who. And if they were ever in their right minds, they certainly aren't after Edward Monkford, the architect and owner, gets hold of them. The two report their experiences in alternating chapters. Emma is “the girl before” of the title: she’s moving in with a boyfriend named Simon after a burglary at their old apartment. Jane is solo, attempting to rebuild her life after a stillbirth. Little more can be said without destroying what little suspense Delaney has managed. About a third of the way in, it all seems so obvious. But wait—there's a twist! With hopelessly fake characters and far too many red herrings and reversals, 1 Folgate St. is a house with no load-bearing walls, collapsing under the weight of its own materials.
Prediction: the Ron Howard movie, already in the works, will be much better than the book.