Andrew “Drew” Morrison is ready to escape his life of caring for his alcoholic mother when he gets the chance to move in with Mickey Fitch, an old childhood friend. The house is an eyesore, by far the worst in the neighborhood, but at least it’s an escape.
The house next door, however, is a different story. It’s immaculate.
And as Drew gets to know the neighbors, Harlow Ward and her husband Red, he finds himself drawn to them. The house is the house Drew never had growing up. Harlow and Red are the parents he never had. And though Drew’s drawn toward her in ways that simply don’t feel right, he does his best to keep those thoughts and emotions in check all the while trying to please his new neighbors.
He wants them to like him as much as he likes them.
Of course, Harlow and Red (and even Mickey) aren’t all they seem to be and that’s the foundation of The Neighbors by Ania Ahlborn.
While it’s tempting to write that this is a book about how we no longer know our neighbors – and let’s face it, very few of us do – in reality this is a book about how little we really know anyone. Even those closest to us.
Ahlborn sets down a psychological mind field to prove this point. As we get deeper into the story, the layers of the characters are gradually peeled back. These are troubled people. People who have been carrying around their hurt for so long that it’s become the rationalization for the best and worst of their actions. They’ve defined themselves by the events in their lives and resigned themselves to the fate of those events.
They feel justified in the things they do, whether it’s murder, helping to set up a victim for murder, or willingly succumbing to the siren’s call of a neighbor because she seems to be the kind of mother he’s always wanted (in this case, we’re referring to Drew).
The Neighbors is entertaining, well-written, and becomes more and more disturbing as you venture deeper into its pages.
My initial concern about the book was its structure, which relies heavily on flashbacks. Early in the going, these flashbacks shed little light on the characters or the story, and I often found them intrusive. However, as the story progressed, they became far more insightful, answering important questions about the characters and their psychological makeup. Despite my initial misgivings about the flashbacks, they ultimately enhance the narrative; shedding light on the characters and their motivations.
This is Ahlborn’s second novel, following on the success of her supernatural thriller, Seed. And she’s taken a step away from Seed to write a strong psychological thriller in The Neighbors. You’ll find a little blood and gore here, but not much. The real story revolves around the desperate needs of its characters, the manipulation by Harlow Ward, and how they all become entangled in a web of a murder.
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