Review: “The New Neighbors,” Simon Lelic

Pros: Interesting mystery
Cons: Structurally odd
Rating: 4 out of 5

Simon Lelic’s The New Neighbors largely takes the form of a manuscript written alternately by Sydney and Jack, a couple who recently bought an old house stuffed with creepy junk. After a neighbor dies they want to get their experiences down on paper (or at least Jack thinks it’ll help) so that the reader can best understand the strange incidents that have befallen them. Is it a ghost story? Is it a murder mystery? You’ll have to read to find out.

The back-and-forth between Jack and Syd rings true. In some ways it makes the situation between them worse as they get some of their harshest and hardest feelings down on paper between them. They’re having to hash things out in a tone neither has dealt with before. And as the narrative involves events that can be hard to prove at best, particularly once the police get involved, believing in each other has never been so tricky.

The families involved in this tale–Jack’s and Syd’s, as well as neighbor Elsie’s–are outrageously nasty, but also believably so. (If you’ve dealt with manipulative and abusive people in real life you’ll probably find some of the family members’ behaviors disturbingly familiar; consider this your warning if you aren’t up to reading about abuse.) Things spiral downward for the couple (Jack loses his job; Syd returns to drug use) and for Elsie as well, whose father puts her in the hospital. It’s depressingly hard to read about if you aren’t ready for it, but it rings true.

The structure was a bit odd. Sometimes one of the two people will have more than one section in a row, so you really have to pay attention to which name begins a chapter and not just rely on alternating chapters. The two character voices need a little more differentiation in my opinion. There’s also some confusion once we jump into and through the present events and thus the whole thing isn’t really being told the same way any more. The good part is that there’s a really nice wind-up like you want in a traditional mystery toward the end. There are plenty of hints and clues and ways for you to figure things out (or not) depending on what you pick up on.

Ultimately I enjoyed this novel and would try more by Peter Lelic.

NOTE: Free book provided by publisher for review

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