The Neighbour, by Lisa Gardner

A domestic thriller in the tradition popularised by Harlan Coben and Linwood Barclay (even down to the white picket fence on the cover of the UK paperback, the edition I bought), The Neighbour is a tense thriller that's fast to read. The basic premise is simple and shocking: Sandy (Sandra), a teacher and 23-year-old mother of Ree, vanishes from her home one night, in some violent fashion after someone breaks in. Sandy's husband Jason is a journalist for the Boston Daily who works nights. He reports his wife's absence to the police a few hours after he gets home – and is singularly uninformative and unhelpful to the ensuing investigation.

 

Sergeant D. D. Warren is in charge of finding Sandy. She is highly professional and competent, not only in her organised strategy in the search, but also in her awareness of what will make evidence admissible or inadmissible in court - particularly in the case of the testimony of 4-year-old Ree, the last person (presumably) to see Sandy before she disappeared.

Not only is Jason a chief suspect, but a neighbour, Aidan Brewster, is soon identified as a registered sex offender and hence a "person of interest". When he was 19, Aidan slept with his 14-year-old stepsister. He's served 2 years in prison and is now working at the local garage. Quite a chunk of the book is taken up with showing Aidan's life and how his one bad act will always affect him in many practical ways as well as psychologically. Later on, a couple more characters are introduced: a 13-year-old schoolboy who seems infatuated with Sandy; and his uncle, a state trooper. Despite all these distractions, Warren and her team are most convinced that Jason is the perpetrator, and when it becomes clear to them that he's operating under a false name and has secrets to hide on his computer, they close in on him.

Although the pages fly by, I was not entirely convinced by this novel. The set up in chapter 1, when Sandy disappears, is a great hook but the denouement does not mesh properly with it: it's a bit of a cheat. Jason and Sandy both have deep secrets, and one kept feeling that if only they'd spoken to each other a bit during their 4-year marriage, they could have avoided a lot of trouble! (I also found it hard imagining Jason as a journalist.) Their little girl Ree is portrayed realistically enough but with that awful saccharine, Disneyfied way that is common in Hollywood movies, so I did suffer from cuteness overload as far as she was concerned. Nevertheless, putting these flaws to one side, there is lots to like in this book – D. D. is a great character, Aidan's plight is well told without sentimentality (although the focus of the novel is not on him, so I am a bit puzzled by the title), and there is genuine tension in the search to find and uncover the secrets in the computer near the end of the novel. 

Review first posted at Petrona, June 2010.

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