Title: The Neighbor
Author: London Clarke
Publisher: Carfax Abbey
Goodreads rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Claire Vogel is a divorced mother of four girls who has a secret. A therapist, she likes to live on the wild side, stepping back just before she might tip over the edge. When she begins a flirtation with sexy, new neighbour Steel Nolan, odd things start happening around the house.
Before long, there is an unexpected murder-suicide in a family in the neighbourhood, and Annalen, her oldest, begins to suffer blackouts. Youngest daughter Paris expresses a vehement dislike towards Steel.
Meanwhile, one of Claire’s patients claims to be living a life that is a mirror image of her own, down to the smallest details. The woman even claims to be seeing a guy called Steel Nolan.
At first, Claire wonders if Steel is two-timing but then she gives in to his seduction and sleeps with him. It is the beginning of the worst nightmare of her life. Creepy things began to happen, with stuffed toys moving around, and her own children behaving as if they are possessed.
Then there is a creepy website that shows you your worst secrets and horrors from your past, things you cannot un-see.
Will Claire succeed in saving herself and her family?
The mood is deliciously slow, the details building up to give the book the vibe of a paranormal thriller.
There’s a minor subplot about her ex-husband, Gunnar, who has moved on and is married, and about the children’s interactions with her. This element led me to think that it might be a domestic thriller, but thankfully, it wasn’t so. The focus remains on the house, and what transpires within. Is it haunted? The author does a fantastic job of keeping us looking over our shoulders to see if ordinary objects around us have turned sinister.
I wish the author had given Claire two daughters less. Except for Annalen and Paris, the other two don’t get much space in the book, and I don’t see why they had to even be there. I couldn’t even remember their names.
To her credit, the supposed desire to live on the wild side doesn’t really show up much. I couldn’t see what the big deal was about it. For the most part, Claire is a sensible woman, genuinely loving towards her children and determined to keep them safe. I felt sorry for her. All she was trying to do was move on the way Gunnar had. Why does it always backfire on women?
Of course, she does behave in classic horror movie character style when it seems her instincts have gone to sleep and she doesn’t listen to her kids. If this element had not been there, the book would have been tighter and a few pages lighter. The climax requires us to suspend our disbelief and felt forced.
The Korean neighbour and her mother-in-law bring in a touch of Korean folklore which resonates within the novel, reminding us that stories from different cultures are more similar than we realise.
Annalen is nearing 15, yet she seems remarkably naïve. She catches her mother getting out of Steel’s truck, smoothing her dress down, and asks her, without a trace of sarcasm, what she was doing in there. How unbelievable is that!
Towards the end, when the horror element takes us out of reality and into the unreal, forcing us to confront the primal issue of Good versus Evil, we really begin to root for Claire as we wonder if there could ever be hope for her.