With ‘Lockdown’ causing dedicated bookstores to close temporarily, supermarkets who sell books became a “saving Grace” for avid readers. Although, I do much prefer to visit an actual bookstore; I just find the atmosphere friendlier and comforting and the customers in there share a love of literature, not just aimlessly perusing every aisle on their weekly shop. Supermarket deals of 2 for £7 or £8 are extremely tempting and chosen books tend to take up noticeable space in my basket or trolley. “The Neighbour” by Fiona Cummins is a book that jumped at me from the Tesco shelf, maybe the bright blue and yellow contrasting cover, but also the seemingly ‘normal’ title grabbed my eye. But, there is nothing normal about this book…
The unassuming name of this book and ordinary-ness of the subject – everyone has neighbours even if you live in the middle of nowhere, there’s still a household closest to you somewhere, got me to thinking “how can the author have written a thrilling story about neighbours?”. Well, she has. And it is deliciously, and disturbingly creepy. The story has many layers and they are all laced together, some by just a few choice threads, others founded more solidly. There’s a map at the front of the book illustrating the layout of the street and I found it useful to flick back to the drawing as the chapters changed to see how the neighbour’s houses were situated in relation to each other.
I loved the format in that the timeline jumps around in short, timestamped, dated and located chapters, but also in the present “now” as the police are approaching the culprit, gaining ever closer as the story progresses. I enjoyed that whilst the chapters followed different strings of the story surrounding each residence, they were all written 3rd person, except for the “now” which was 1st person. I did feel that this choice of perspective limited the emotion and empathy I felt for the detective character (but this isn’t essential in a standalone novel, but required much more in a series) and quashed some of my horror and surprise at the tragedies. Plural. The body count is Midsomer Murders-esque.
There’s a lot of backstory and history linking to an event in 1985, but I didn’t find the story too complex to follow. I felt some of the reveals were a little predictable, but not in a bad way, I felt they were a nod to more traditional “murder mysteries” such as Agatha Christie. The author has engineered the characters so there’s a myriad of questions regarding identity, child abuse, suspicious disappearances, marital affairs and more! Is anyone who they say they are? Is anyone telling the truth? The style of writing allows for double bluffs and I enjoyed those moments – the dropped breadcrumbs steer the reader into one way of thinking then ‘bam!’ it goes in a different direction.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book (ploughing through it in 2 days is a huge positive) and I honestly could not stop turning the pages! Some of the imagery is graphic, so be warned, especially if you have an issue with dolls/puppets. I just devoured the chapters as the police honed in on the little details divulged by the residents and the resolution started falling into place. I did guess the method of death about half way into the book but not the ins and outs or circumstances, nor the why, so the ending was still an “ahhh” moment. The weather has been glorious in the UK this last week of May, so I have been reading outside in the garden surrounded by my own neighbours… And as the hook on the cover says: “You see them every day. But do you really know them?”… – GJ