Dear Neighbour, by Anna Willett [Review]

Anna Willett is a master at creating tension and suspense. Her stories are always pulse-pounding and Dear Neighbour is a wonderful example. It’s a tight yarn with a thrilling ending that grips you and touches your heartstrings while it tingles your spine. Like any great horror/suspense book (or film), you end up yelling at Amy (in your head or sometimes out loud): “Don’t do it!” But you know she has to, because the author has let you inside her head just enough to understand. It’s brilliant writing.

The story follows Amy, a self-conscious young woman with low self-esteem who has fallen into an unhealthy relationship with Zane, a self-centered, manipulative, scumbag. Just watching Amy succumb to Zane’s mental and physical abuse is heart-wrenching. Ms. Willett creates a character whose motivations and mental torture provide a context in which her actions make sense. Watching her make bad decisions is excruciating, but that’s the point. Amy is severely flawed and damaged, which makes her ultimately sympathetic. Her heart is in the right place, but she just can’t bring herself to escape from her self-inflicted torment.

Without giving away any of the plot’s many secrets, Amy finds herself living with Zane in a run-down house on a quiet lane. Zane’s companion, another low-life who calls himself Spider, prevents Amy and Zane from having anything resembling a normal existence as she tries to make a home for herself and her lover. Their neighbors, who live in the big house and who own most of the property on Cobblestone Lane, Frank and Greta, have their own problems – and their own secrets. It’s the revealing and understanding of those secrets that drive the story. Amy becomes friends with the aging Greta, who suffers from early stage Alzheimer’s. Their friendship is the heart of the story. What happens to her, and Frank, and Amy, is a fully engaging thriller. The events are so much more meaningful because the characters are so well-developed and interesting.

There are a few elements of the story that weren’t perfect, but which did not diminish my enjoyment of the read. The pace is excellent until two-thirds of the way through, when the reader has a full understanding of what’s going to happen. The author then slows down the events in order to describe the characters’ inner feelings and build the anticipation and suspense, which is great to a point, but could have used a trim in the editing. The climactic scene was paced beautifully. Frank’s motivations for some of his actions and what he expected to happen afterwards was a bit murky, and Amy’s excuse for being where she needed to be for the climactic sequences was a tiny bit forced. And the final, post-climax wrap-up could have been a little less tidy (for me). But those are minor quibbles. This is a terrific book and well worth reading.

I’m a fan of Ms. Willett and she has not failed to entrance me with her characters and stories. This one would be a perfect entry point for those not familiar with her work. Pick this up and you will surely explore more of her stories. Very highly recommended.

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