Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Book Review: The Neighbor's Secret

By Jami Denison

In my opinion, The Husband’s Secret is Liane Moriarty’s strongest work, an enthralling and ultimately heartbreaking tale of domestic secrets held by people who could live next door. So her high praise of L. Alison Heller’s The Neighbor’s Secret prompted me to read the book right away. Moriarty’s words were not hyperbole: The Neighbor’s Secret delivers in all areas, and may even be better than Moriarty’s own masterpiece.

Like Little Big Lies, The Neighbor’s Secret starts with a murder, but whose murder—and the first-person narrator who describes what she saw before it happened —goes unnamed. The three named (third person) protagonists are Lena, who was once the life of the party but has been a recluse since an unnamed tragedy 15 years ago; Jen, a book club newbie who’s worried that her 14-year-old son Abe may be a sociopath; and Annie, a part-time school counselor and mother of 14-year-old Laurel. Living in the exclusive, well-off suburb of Cottonwood, the women are brought together by the neighborhood book club and by worry about a vandal who targets cherished community landmarks. Annie befriends Lena, but she may have a bigger agenda than just bringing an older woman out of her shell. As Annie reintroduces Lena to neighborhood life, and Laurel befriends Abe, all the elements move toward each other like an impending car crash. 

Heller is a master chef who blends her ingredients smoothly. Understanding her readers, she gives just enough information to lead them to certain inferences—and then smashes those inferences apart. The number of times when I thought I knew what had happened, only to be proven wrong, were too numerous to mention. What exactly happened 15 years ago, and how does that affect Annie’s family today? The tension Heller builds from this question is so taut, I almost forgot that the book started with a murder.  The ending is a jaw-dropper, a climax that ties every plot thread in the book into a tight knot. 

Even with all that suspense, the book doesn’t lack humor—the emails from the book club’s organizer, and the descriptions of the books they are reading, are hysterical. 

The Neighbor’s Secret has all the elements of an HBO or Hulu series—wealthy suburb, female friendships, troubled children, secret pasts, and murder. Fingers crossed that the book will get picked up soon. 

Thanks to Wunderkind PR for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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