It’s such a pleasure today to be joining the blog tour for the latest book from Mary Grand, Good Neighbours, and to be sharing my review. Published by Boldwood Books on 18th May, it’s now available via Amazon for kindle (just 99p, or free via Kindle Unlimited), in paperback, and as an audiobook. My thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for the invitation and support, and to the publishers for my advance reading e-copy (provided via netgalley).
If anyone’s guaranteed to make me visit the darker side, it has to be Mary Grand. I really loved her first novel for Boldwood, The House Party – that claustrophobic (and vividly drawn) Isle of Wight setting, the complex characters, the secrets, and its totally unexpected ending (you can read my full review here). The Island followed, and I thought it was even better – driven by its characters with their convoluted relationships but with an intriguing and compelling story steadily unfolding, and some real surprises along the way (you’ll find my review here). I’m not going to make it to the Isle of Wight this year as I originally planned – definitely next year! – but I’m delighted to be returning there instead through Mary’s latest book…
It was meant to be a safe place to start again…
In need of an escape from her failing marriage, Nia agrees to house-sit her aunt’s cottage on the Isle of Wight. She feels sure the cosy close in a quaint harbour town will be a safe place to hide and figure out what to do next.
But things are not all as they seem in the close, and the neighbours who welcome her with open arms, are keeping secrets. When Nia finds the body of one of her new friends lying on the beach, she feels sickeningly sure that the killer is dangerously near to home.
Who killed her friend and why did she have to die? And if Nia discovers the answers she’s looking for, is she next on their hit list? Good neighbours may become good friends, but they can also make deadly enemies…
This book has a particularly chilling prologue, lit by black candles, hate-filled and focused on the making of a voodoo doll – I was hooked immediately! We then join Nia as she travels from the mainland, along with her spaniel companion Romeo, to the Isle of Wight to house-sit for her aunt – and having arrived in Harbour Close in Yarmouth she finds herself welcomed and drawn into the close-knit community her absent aunt is very much part of. Nia’s been having a rather difficult time recently, and a little distance from the problems in her marriage and her personal concerns might be just what she needs – but it soon becomes clear that there are secrets behind the smiles and threatening undercurrents beneath the community’s warm welcome. When one of their number – the recipient of that voodoo doll – is found dead on the beach, the police believe it was suicide. But Nia becomes increasingly convinced that it was murder, embarking on her own amateur investigation, uncovering layers of secrets in the process that others would far prefer remained hidden.
There was so much about this book that I enjoyed. The characterisation really is excellent, every single member of the tight community wonderfully drawn and developed along with the growing atmosphere of claustrophobia from the way their lives are entangled. Sisters Jade and Ruby now run a hairdressing salon, but were formerly members of a rather sinister and controlling religious cult; Ruby’s husband Richie is a talented artist with a successful small gallery, but perhaps harbouring a few secrets of his own; the brash and charismatic (but not particularly likeable) Ian and his more fragile wife Lucy are health fanatics on the verge of securing a TV and book deal; Ethan is a vet, considerably more warm and friendly than his marriage-obsessed fiancee Elvira; and then there’s Joe, who runs the brasserie where they all meet up for weekly drinks but turns out to have a bit of a secret life of his own. It becomes amply clear that the murderer must be one of their number, and every interaction becomes loaded with doubt and suspicion. And every single one of them proves to have secrets that they’re hiding – perhaps pointing to their guilt, but sometimes just part of their complexities as individuals.
Nia herself is a particularly well-drawn character too – tentative and uncertain at first, growing in confidence as she deals with the complex baggage of her past, although her dogged determination to uncover the truth puts her in personal danger and alienates many. Although told in the third person, I liked the way we were able to share her thoughts and internal dialogue – spaniel Romeo is a particularly good listener – and I grew to like her more and more as the story progressed and her confidence grew.
The story’s pace is relatively slow, with much of the exposition done through dialogue – something the author really does excel at – and I found that entirely compelling as the finger of suspicion moved from individual to individual, the layers of secrets became exposed and no-one was quite what they seemed. There’s a real sense of claustrophobia about the tight little community, where everyone knows rather too much about everyone else’s business – and the atmosphere of suspicion and threat builds steadily, making it a really gripping read. I also really enjoyed the book’s strong sense of place – it’s not only the small community, but the island itself and its separation and isolation from the mainland, something the author conveys particularly well – along with vivid descriptions of the beautiful scenery and life by the sea. And did I guess the ending? No, I certainly didn’t – like Nia, I suspected everyone in turn, even thought I was a few steps ahead of her at times, but satisfyingly found the author had me looking in entirely the wrong direction.
This really was my kind of thriller – while I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s other two books with Boldwood, I think this was definitely my favourite so far. It certainly kept me reading into the early hours as the tension grew and the pieces began to fall into place – highly recommended, and I’m already looking forward to seeing what Mary Grand does next.
About the author
Mary Grand is the author of six novels and writes gripping, page-turning suspense, with a dark and often murderous underside. She grew up in Wales, was for many years a teacher of deaf children and now lives on the Isle of Wight where her Boldwood novels are set.