“The woman before me” by Ruth Dugdall

Rose Wilks has been in prison for four long years. Incarcerated for something she didn’t do.  Another tragic part of a life filled with tragedy and betrayal. Rose is serving a sentence for manslaughter. She is charged with setting a fire that took a baby’s life.

Rose’s life has been a lonely one. At an early age her mother commit suicide and she went to live with her Auntie Ruth.  Ruth was a spinster with no children of her own. Her parenting skills were sketchy to say the least. She did love Rose, but her failing health prematurely ended their time together.

Shelving her dreams of getting a university education, Rose went to live and work in a local hotel. It is there that she meets and falls in love with Jason, the bartender.  Jason, though somewhat attentive to Rose, is still very much in love with his ex-wife, Emma.  Where Rose is plain, Emma is beautiful.  Fearful of losing Jason, Rose thinks she can make Jason love her. In her effort to do this, she falls pregnant.

“I thought we were going to be a normal family, just like I’d always wanted.”

Rose and Jason have an argument and Rose delivers prematurely. Their tiny son, Joel, is barely clinging to life. Jason and Rose are distraught, upset and apprehensive.

Emma Hatcher, Jason’s ex-wife is also pregnant. She delivers a son, Luke, and is in the hospital at the same time as Rose.  Luke is healthy and thriving – Joel is weak and sickly.  Rose rails against the injustice of it, but cannot help but love baby Luke.

“There should be a word for it. If I’d lost a husband, I would be a widow. But what is a woman who loses a baby? There is no word.”

Rose befriends Emma, who has no idea of Rose’s relationship with Jason, her former husband. Rose frequently babysits for Emma. She bonds with baby Luke. She even goes so far as to breastfeed him, and to sneak into Emma’s house while she is asleep, just to fondly gaze upon Luke in his cot.  It is after a night when she has done this, that there is a fire in Emma’s house and baby Luke is killed. He was just four months old.

Cate Austin is a probation officer. A single mother in her late twenties, Cate has just started working at the Suffolk prison – Rose Wilks is her first case. It is up to Cate to determine if she feels that Rose is a good candidate for early parole.

Cate is struggling, and like all single, working mothers, she is riddled with guilt. Her darling little girl is being looked after by a childminder.  The little girl’s father is now living with another woman. Everything seems like so much effort, like a juggler with too many balls in the air.

Can Cate be objective with Rose’s case? Will her own parental guilt influence her parole report?

Rose Wilks did not start the fire that killed Luke. But just what IS she guilty of?

Like me, you might think you’ve got this whodunnit all figured out about halfway through. However… you’d be wrong. This novel holds some plot twists that will shock you.

The characterization in this novel was very well rendered, causing the reader to empathise with all of the central characters. The author employed complicated emotional subterfuge to make the impact of her plot twists more deeply felt.

This novel about three women, is about mothering, about loss, and about parental guilt. Written in a way that is articulate and compelling, this is the second novel by this author that I have read.  Lucky me. Ruth Dugdall has written several other books including three other titles in the Cate Austin series, so I have lots of great reading ahead.  Highly recommended.


I received a complimentary digital copy of this book from the publisher, Legend Press, via NetGalley. This in no way influenced my rating or my enjoyment of this novel.

Ruth Dugdall was born in Felixstowe, Suffolk, and studied a BA (Hons) degree in English and Theatre Studies at Warwick University, and then an MA is Social Work at UEA. She worked as a Probation Officer for almost a decade, working in prisons with numerous high-risk criminals. Ruth’s debut novel The Woman Before Me (Legend Press, 2010) was informed by her experiences. Ruth’s professional background gives her writing authenticity and credibility. Ruth’s second novel The Sacrificial Man was published in 2011.

Ruth is the winner of the CWA Debut Dagger and the Luke Bitmead Bursary and has been longlisted for the New Angle Book Prize and People’s Book Prize.

She currently lives with her husband and two children in Luxembourg.

Ruth’s website www.ruthdugdall.com ; Follow Ruth on Twitter at @ruthdugdall

About Fictionophile

Fiction reviewer ; Goodreads librarian. Retired library cataloger - more time to read! Loves books, gardening, and red wine. I have been a reviewer member of NetGalley since October 2013. I review titles offered by Edelweiss, and participate in blog tours with TLC Book Tours.
This entry was posted in 1st in series, Book Reviews, NetGalley, Page turners, Psychological thrillers and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to “The woman before me” by Ruth Dugdall

  1. Pingback: Fictionophile’s Top Reads of 2018 | Fictionophile

  2. Annie says:

    I remember I read this one a few years ago and really enjoyed it!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Shocking plot twists? Ooh sounds really good! Great review!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. skyecaitlin says:

    Great review, but I am coming across many books and movies that deal with the tragic loss, abduction of disappearance of children. I have two and I watched them like a hawk. So glad your daughter is well, now, Lynne, mine is 37 and my son is 38.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. carhicks says:

    Great review. This sounds like a good one. Was it hard to read with the loss of children?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t think most people would find it difficult, but it was hard for me to read sometimes. The part where baby Joel was in an incubator brought back memories of my own experience in delivering a premature baby. My daughter, Laura, was 3lb 12oz at birth and needed brain surgery for hydrocephalus. I’m happy to say that she is now 36 years old and has earned two university degrees.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m not sure if my previous comment went through so if there’s a double I’m sorry. This sounds really good!
    Great review!

    Liked by 2 people

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