"The Killer Next Door" (Penguin Books), by Alex Marwood
Desperation brings six people to a decaying Victorian apartment house where the tenants' desolation pales in comparison with one neighbor's despicable acts.
Alex Marwood's second stand-alone novel delivers a multilayered plot that succeeds as crime fiction, a gothic tale and a village mystery — all with an edge. With the apartment building substituting for a village, "The Killer Next Door" balances a shrewd look at people living on the edge of society with a deliciously creepy look at a murderer.
While London's Northbourne area is "gentrifying fast," that renewal hasn't reached 23 Beulah Grove, where vile odors seep from pipes that are constantly clogged. But residents crave anonymity, and they are willing to tolerate no upkeep and a disgusting landlord.
Collette has evaded police and her former boss, whom she witnessed murder a man, for three years, thanks to a new identity. Teenager Cher Farrell scrapes by with petty thefts and scams. Refuge Hossein Zanjani escaped Iran's politics. Vesta Collins, who was born in the building, wonders why, at 69, she stayed. Tenants also include music teacher Gerard Bright and Thomas Dunbar, who works part-time.
They live in such close proximity that they know each other's personal habits, but they aren't friends. However, they're forced to unite when the plumbing backs up with a strange substance, followed by a turn of events in which it's vital that they protect one another's secrets.
The plot is full of clever twists that continue to the surprise finale. While some scenes are gruesome enough to give Thomas Harris pause, "The Killer Next Door" is lyrically insightful. And the author's decision to reveal the identity of the murderer about three-quarters of the way through the tale only enhances the story.
Marwood, an Edgar Award winner for "The Wicked Girls," again excels in this gripping thriller.