Monday, March 22, 2021

Book Review: The Downstairs Neighbor

By Jami Denison

There’s something uniquely British about domestic thrillers that are built around questions of community and neighborhood. Louise Candlish, Lisa Jewell, and Ruth Ware are just a few female British writers who’ve made London neighborhoods into places of murder, mystery, and mayhem. Now debut author Helen Cooper joins them with The Downstairs Neighbor, a thriller that reminds readers that you never really know the people you share space with.

Emma is the downstairs neighbor in question, living in a tiny basement apartment, in a home she shares with two other families in suburban London. She often hears the sounds of her upstairs neighbors—Steph, Paul, and their teenage daughter Freya. They share the space with driving instructor Chris and his wife, a nurse. But when Freya fails to come home from school one afternoon, everyone’s life is turned upside down. Is someone in the building responsible for Freya’s disappearance? 

The Downstairs Neighbor is a complicated book, with multiple (third-person) points of view and two timelines, one present-day and one 25 years in the past. And it turns out everyone has secrets to hide, and while some of those secrets impact Freya, others are red herrings. Although every character was unique and compelling, sometimes I felt the need to take notes or draw a map to keep track of who was who and what they had done. 

Thematically, though, the story is much less complicated. It asks a clear question: How much honesty do parents owe their children, or spouses owe each other? Every subplot hinges on this question, and each time the answer is the same: Tell the truth. Lives could depend on it.

The Downstairs Neighbor is a captivating debut, and its complicated twists will satisfy readers who enjoy complex puzzles. I look forward to seeing what Cooper writes next. 

Thanks to Putnam for the book in exchange for an honest review. 

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