FOR SALE: A lovely family home with good-sized garden and treehouse occupying a plot close to woodland. Perfect for kids, fitness enthusiasts, dog walkers . . .
And, it seems, the perfect hunting ground for a serial killer.
On a hot July day, Garrick and Olivia Lockwood and their two children move into 25 The Avenue looking for a fresh start. They arrive in the midst of a media frenzy: they’d heard about the local murders in the press, but Garrick was certain the killer would be caught and it would all be over in no time. Besides, they’d got the house at a steal and he was convinced he could flip it for a fortune.
The neighbours seemed to be the very picture of community spirit. But everyone has secrets, and the residents in The Avenue are no exception.
After six months on the case with no real leads, the most recent murder has turned DC Wildeve Stanton’s life upside down, and now she has her own motive for hunting down the killer – quickly.
When the Lockwood family moves into 25 The Avenue they quickly realise that a serial killer is on the loose in the area. The police don’t have any leads and the killer has just claimed his fifth victim. The media has named the killer “The Doll Maker” because of his penchant for removing his victims’ eyes and replacing them with dolls’ eyes. To complicate matters, a doll maker lives on the road making him the obvious killer. The Lockwoods are very vulnerable when they move into the street because of their troubled background and find that the neighbours are friendly and welcoming. However, we find out that everyone on the street has a secret and everyone is watching. As the Lockwoods get to know their neighbours and begin to explore their neighbourhood, they find out exactly how dangerous the neighbourhood really is and that looks can be deceiving.
In addition, DC Wildeve Stanton has just experienced a tragedy and is personally invested in the police investigation. Along with DCI Clive “Mac” Mackie, Stanton begins to investigate the murders, picking up where others have left off.
The Neighbour begins with a truly terrifying premise and plays on everyone’s worst fears – that there is a serial killer living in your neighbourhood and anyone could be the next victim. The book it set in a neighbourhood on “the outskirts of a nondescript Essex town.” It’s a place we’re all familiar with and it’s vividly written. Cummins is a gifted writer of the everyday – this world and these characters seem very real to us. The book is set during a heat wave and we can completely understand the atmosphere and feel the heat, which all add to the claustrophobia of the neighbourhood. The heat is used perfectly throughout the book to convey the pressure on the community and the police to find the killer, and on the Lockwoods in their quest to fit in.
But Cummins is also very gifted at writing the sinister and imbuing this seemingly normal neighbourhood with a sense of dread. The book cleverly reveals to us early on that everyone has a secret but the narrative perspective constantly shifts throughout to include the various members of the community who are all engaging, multifaceted, and surprisingly sympathetic. Most chapters are written in third person as the various characters go about their lives. And the multitude of characters is impressive as each of these different perspectives has a distinct tone. The narratives involve characters of all ages including the Lockwoods two children Astor and Evan as they try to integrate into their new neighbourhood. But the killer’s narrative is written in first person so we’re not sure who the killer is until the end. The killer’s first-person narrative also involves memories from the 1980s adding to the narrative complexity. There are plenty of red herrings and twists and the pace is frenetic throughout because of the short chapters. But, despite these shifts in narrative voice, each character is still fully developed and each narrative thread is weaved together successfully in the end. It’s an incredibly well-crafted plot that never seems confused or convoluted.
This is Cummins’ third book following Rattle and The Collector which I will be scrambling to read. It’s an utterly compelling read that will make you question your neighbours, no matter how much you think you know them. The Neighbour is the most atmospheric and scariest book I’ve read in a long time. It’s a masterclass in slow-burning suspense. Cummins is a gifted writer with a clear narrative voice.
About the author
Fiona Cummins is an award-winning former Daily Mirror showbusiness journalist and a graduate of the Faber Academy Writing A Novel course. Rattle, her debut novel, has been translated into several languages and received widespread critical acclaim from authors including Val McDermid, Lee Child and Martina Cole. Fiona was selected for McDermid’s prestigious New Blood panel at the 2017 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, where her novel was nominated for a Dead Good Reader Award for Most Exceptional Debut. Rattle is now being adapted into a six-part TV series by the producers of Golden Globe-nominated Miss Sloane. A sequel, The Collector, was published in February 2018. Her third novel – standalone thriller The Neighbour – was published in April 2019. When Fiona is not writing, she can be found on Twitter, eating biscuits or walking her dog. She lives in Essex with her family.