Thursday, April 28, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: quiet neighbors by Catriona McPherson

It’s been a while since I’ve read a contemporary mystery/thriller, so when I read a blurb for quiet neighbors by Catriona McPherson I decided to give it a try. It’s an oddly compelling book, with a slow build at first that then gets hard to put down.

Jude Hamner is the unreliable narrator. A young woman with a compulsion for cleanliness that has veered into the pathological, Jude has fled from her librarian job in London to a tiny remote town in Scotland after something unspeakable happened to her. She chose the hidey-hole because she had been there a year earlier on a vacation with her husband and she’d fallen in love with a used bookstore run by a kindly old man, Lowell Glen. (Another book about bookstores and bookstore owners. I can’t get enough of these!)

The old man is still there and he’s just as kindly. On the spot, he offers her a job and a place to stay. His mannerisms are odd, but she puts it down to old-fashioned politeness and loneliness and besides, she’s desperate. Because she’s terrified of being discovered, particularly by police, whatever she did must be criminal and pretty bad.

The truth dribbles out little by little, aided by the arrival of a pregnant teenager who claims to be Lowell’s long-lost daughter, whom he never knew existed. Her mother, Lowell’s ex-lover, is recently dead. Lowell welcomes her with open arms. Jude is more suspicious. It’s hard to tease out whether she’s overly suspicious or has cause.

But Jude can’t focus on obsessing over the daughter. While sorting the used books, she stumbles on yet another mystery. Years ago, someone was apparently murdering elderly residents of the town. Is the murderer still around?

This novel is entertaining, although rather farfetched. Jude is an intriguing protagonist and the daughter is a good foil. I had a bit of trouble with Lowell, who never really jelled for me as an actual character. I couldn’t quite tell what the author was going for with him. Maybe that was deliberate, given the mysteriousness of the goings-on in the town, but it detracted a bit from the story. Yet after multiple twists and turns of the plot, there was a satisfying conclusion. If you’re interested in a thriller that combines a bit of gothic creepiness with a bit of farce, you’ll enjoy quiet neighbors.