It’s the morning of the day you have been dreaming about since you proposed or said yes. Friends and family have gathered from near and far to celebrate your happiness. It’s your big day. Months of planing the flowers, cake, band, everything down to the last detail all rests on today. No pressure. As you turn or walk down the aisle to see your beloved, you’re struck with a sudden nausea. You want to scream but nothing comes out. Your perfect dream wedding has been slashed to pieces within seconds. The mutters begin and all eyes are on you. The person standing before you is not your future spouse. They have disappeared and no one knows where they have gone.
Today I am on the Random Things Tours for Before I Say I Do (Published 28th May 2020) By Vicki Bradley. A big thank you to the publishers Simon & Schuster for my copy to review, always appreciated. Also to the lovely Anne for the invite, thank you!
Vicki Bradley is a detective constable in the Metropolitan Police Service. She has had a varied career, as a uniformed response driver in Brent and then as a detective Constable in Southwark CID. She has managed High Risk Sex Offenders and worked on the Serious Organised Crime Command. She is currently on a 5-year career break to focus on her writing. Vicki completed a Creative Writing MA at City University in 2016. Before I Say I Do won the Write Here, Right Now competition, came 3rd in the First Novel Prize and has been shortlisted for the Virago New Crime Writer 2017 and Peters Fraser and Dunlop Prize 2016. She enjoys travelling the world and climbing mountains. Vicki lives in London with her husband.
Before I Say I Do
Her dream wedding is about to become her worst nightmare
Julia is nervous and it’s not just because she’s about to get married. There’s a lot that her soon-to-be husband, Mark, doesn’t know – and she is determined to keep it that way.
As she walks down the aisle, spotting Mark is his tailored suit, she knows she is taking her first steps to happiness- her past can’t catch her now. He turns to face her…
But it isn’t Mark in the beautiful suit – it’s his best man.
Because Mark is missing.
And Julia’s past is closer than she thinks.
The scene of a wedding is one of beauty and grace. A safe place where you feel nothing can go wrong. It is like stepping into a fairytale, the bride in white, the groom in tailored threads with flowers all around and nothing but pure joy. The reader has been invited to such an event as they meet a nervous Julia about to walk down the aisle towards her husband-to-be, Mark. You are led to believe that the reason she is a little on edge is just pre-wedding jitters. Normal wedding behaviour. Yet you get a small whiff of something that smells a bit off. You can’t put your finger on it but it’s there, hanging in the air like a silent but deadly aroma. As Julia walks towards Mark everything drastically changes. You realise that this isn’t going to be a lovey-dovey romance story about newlyweds. No, far worse you experience murder, drugs and revenge all neatly wrapped up as a wedding gift to the happy couple.
The narrative follows the two main characters Julia Talbot and CID Alana Loxton. Julia is narrated in first person while Loxton is told in third. Because of this style I felt more connected to Julia. However this didn’t mean that I knew everything about her and couldn’t rely on her as a truthful source. I respected Loxton from the moment I met her. She brought a strong sense of justice and dedication to her job that made me constantly cheer her on. With every knock-back she faces she pulls herself up and refuses to back down. I admire this in a character, the tenacity to not give up and the passion to fight for what is right. It was fascinating jumping from Julia’s head to observe Loxton’s investigation. They are two very different characters but have a few similarities that make them a force to be reckoned with.
At times Julia appears weak willed as her best friend Lucy is often at her side. They have known each since childhood but have an unspoken rule to not discuss their past. In the aftermath of Mark’s disappearance, Lucy is there every step of the way and offers to look after Julia, rushing home from work and bringing her food so she’s not alone. At first it can be seen as endearing but it only enhances how dependent Julia is. She can be excused for certain behaviour as the man she was about to marry has vanished into thin air, but the more you learn about her, the more you suspect something is amiss. She doesn’t know anything about her finances for her own jewellery shop and gets uneasy at the mention of her family, claiming they died in a car crash years ago. She comes across like a child and seems lost in her adult life. Events reach a point where something snaps inside her and she decides to tackle Mark’s disappearance alone which only leads her down a dangerous path. She starts lying to Lucy about her whereabouts and feels increasingly paranoid that someone is watching her. Whenever the police talk to her she is on edge, throwing up and feeling dizzy, she wants to run which only heightens our suspicions of her innocence. The reader begins to wonder if they know her at all or if she even knows herself. She is a complex character wearing many masks which only makes it that more interesting to decipher.
Bradley brings together a mixture of characters that you root for and want to succeed while others you just want to slap hard across the face for being such an arse. It’s a devious blend of innocence and guilt that drives their purpose throughout the narrative, leaving the reader to work out the wolves among the sheep. You think you know certain characters but are then shocked to discover their true identity and no longer trust anyone in the story. You feel a fool as you look back and see the signs. Very much like our own personal lives, you never can tell what lies beneath the surface. With every new discovery of the truth and secret told, the more you realise how wrong you were about everything.
Bradley has a talent for delivering the unexpected to the reader at the most crucial of moments. There are so many red herrings that leave you frustrated and desperate to find out the truth. I was compelled to read on, to know the fate of the characters and have everything explained at the end like your typical who-done-it. It’s exciting, heart stopping and so full of suspense that you won’t want to put it down.
Just when I thought my heart couldn’t break anymore, Bradley delivered another blow that cut deeper than the last. I was a mess towards the end and couldn’t stop the tears. It was heartbreaking to read about that fateful day in the woods. All the feelings, the atmosphere, and the innocence. It’s tragic and I was left feeling horrified at how far some people will go to get their own way.
I learned a lot from this story, most importantly that you can’t let your past dictate your future. Both Julia and Loxton constantly worry that their secret past will affect their present. They spend a lot of time fretting about the consequences of what would happen if word got out. They struggle to move forward and find themselves doubting everything they thought they knew. It is only when they confront their fear and refuse to go on living in a state of cryo-stasis that they are revived triumphantly. After all these two characters have been through, it was well and truly deserved and fulfilling to read how they developed and evolved.
I give Before I Say I Do By Vicki Bradley a Five out of Five paw rating.
Intense and addictive this book is hard to put down. You will find yourself racing towards the end and holding your breath with every revelation, desperate for answers. I couldn’t get enough and did not see the twists coming before it was too late. I was strongly invested in this story, the characters, for everyone to get their comeuppance and I was not disappointed. I felt emotionally drained by the end and loved every single second of it. More please! I am definitely going to be reading more of Bradley’s work, she is an exceptional writer.
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