Before You Knew My Name – Jacqueline Bublitz’s Beautiful Murder

Let Conversation Cease, Let Laughter Flee. This is the Place Where Death Delights to Help the Living

Murder. Rape. It's a horrible business to write about, but Jacqueline Bublitz's gorgeous debut novel does her victim justice.

Before You Knew My Name

Unlike most crime writers, who approach a story from the point of view of the perpetrator, professional or amateur detective, Bublitz breathes new life into the murder mystery format. She gives her victim a name; Alice, and a voice: hers is the leading point of view.

That's not all that's different about this book, which has the critics raving and the public clamouring for a copy. Bublitz also gives the woman who finds Alice's body a story and a narrative, instead of committing her to a sentence in the papers, with no way to express her experience. Her name is Ruby.

It's a move seen by the media as strongly feminist, taking attention away from the killer, who usually makes all the headlines:

I am coming to understand that for many, my identity only has meaning in so far as it might help identify him. Him. The everyman behind each mystery, each sad, bad, Jane Doe story. Never mind her after that: as soon as they know his name, he'll be the only one they talk about... the one who takes over the narrative.

Instead, it's Alice, already dead, who narrates the text; looking back at events that have led her to her untimely and infinitely sad death: murdered, then raped, on the rocks beside the Hudson River.

These men think we're such delicate flowers. They have no idea how strong we are, Alice. How much we can take. They never doubt we need them more than they need us.

It was fascinating to watch, how quickly she could put herself back together again. 

Alice and her mother before her have been exploited by 'careless' men who wanted to possess their beauty. It drove her mother to suicide.

From a small town in Wisconsin, Alice has nowhere to go when, in her last year of school, her guardian decides her duties are over. She enters into a relationship with her lecherous former art teacher, having answered his advert for a 'modelling' job. Growing up fast, she gradually realises she's been manipulated.

Through Alice, Bublitz examines her character's strength, her huge need for love, and her culpability in discovering her own sexual power, and what she has done to escape his influence by fleeing to New York.

Like so many young people before her.

Are we ever the same person with someone else? And if we're not, what happens when one of you leaves, where does that version of you go? This is something I have thought about a lot since my mother left me.

In New York, things were looking so much better for Alice. She finds hope in a photography course, and a friend in her flat-mate; an elderly gentleman (and his dog). He seems to genuinely care for her as a young person, not her blooming sexuality. It all looks so positive. But you can't change Alice's ending.

... one early morning, it ends. There was an I, and it was me. I was at the centre, looking out. Until someone decided to enter the space I had created for myself, take it over.

If initially abandoned by women, Alice is 'saved' by a woman, if that's the right word. Bublitz's narrative gets in Ruby's head - a voice we never hear. What can it be like to find a body? Not as gloriously as it's imagined in Stand By Me, that's for sure. 

An Australian trying to leave behind a bad affair, to start a new life in the Big Apple, Ruby's character further illustrates the ways in which men can hurt and humiliate women. As well as the boyfriend who feeds her the crumbs left over from his relationship, interested only in sex, she meets a predator online (quelle surprise).

Is she supposed to laugh this off, like we often do?

Haunted by finding Alice's body, Ruby joins a Death Club. It's a group of people with similar encounters. But her obsession with Alice remains, bringing her very close to danger - she keeps returning to the scene of the crime in the same way that a murderer would.

Does he?

There is no name to be spoken, but I am recognized by each of the women present, clasped around their lifted hands, heavy on their hearts. I am their fears, and their lucky escapes, their anger, and their wariness. I am their caution and their yesterdays... all those nights they have spent looking over their shoulders, or twining keys between fingers. 

Before You Knew My Name is a brave and timely novel which will fuel the debate on women's right to walk safely through the streets, and our fears that our daughters will be groomed by careless men. 

Don't go there. Don't do that.

Skirt's too short, street's too dark. 

Why couldn't you – who did you – how did you – ?

When you go around asking for trouble like that. What exactly did you think would happen?

With a gorgeous cover to match the story within, this book has the painful beauty of a Keats poem. 

Jacqueline Bublitz will be appearing at WORD Christchurch Festival, opens a new window in How To Write A Killer Plot on Thursday 11 November, 2-3pm at The Piano. The event is also available by livestream

She will be beaming in with Christchurch Master of Crime, Paul Cleave, whose latest offering, The Quiet People, is harrowingly close to a recent abduction case in Australia.

Further reading

More books written from the victim's point of view: 

More WORD Christchurch 2021