HQ | 2019 (21 February) | 336p | Review copy | Buy the book
To everyone who knows her, Jane Morgan lives the perfect life. She is the wife of an admired, handsome doctor, she has three lovely children, including beautiful twins, and they live in one of the larger houses in the quiet village of Ashdon. Jane is a member – a leader, even – of most of the village’s organisations. She even runs a book club. But then one February the girl next door, 16-year-old Clare Edwards, is found murdered in the nearby Sorrow’s Meadow. As the villagers stumble around in their efforts to support the grieving mother and stepfather, they’re well aware that there’s a killer on the loose. Jane will do anything to protect her family while keeping hidden her darkest secret. No marriage is perfect. Jane’s certainly isn’t.
The Girl Next Door is such a fast and entertaining psychological thriller. We’re used to families with hidden secrets but what I really enjoyed about this novel is the author’s depiction of what seems to hold the community of Ashdon together – the circle of female friends, with their impeccable makeup, their inability to keep their noses out of their neighbours’ business, their fridges full of wine, their snobbishness and their prejudices. In Ashdon, the best way to win approval is to bake a lasagne for a bereaved friend. It’s not what you think that counts, it’s how you act. And Jane, who is looked up to and envied by everyone, except perhaps by the mother of the murdered girl, is queen of Ashdon.
Jane is our narrator and she has a fascinating voice. There are plenty of little digs at her friends and her worry that she’s not keeping up appearances is paramount. But Jane hints that her marriage is far from fine but to divorce would bring shame. Their friend Linda is getting divorced and there’s a queue of people promising to bake for her – although you rather sense that nobody actually has. Jane must stay married. Instead, she focuses on keeping her children safe.
Every so often we hear another voice and that one belongs to Clare as she goes over what happened to her during her last day. I thought this worked really well. Amongst the selfishness and the superficiality, through Clare we see the real actual tragedy of what has happened. A teenage girl has died just as her life was beginning. Clare’s grief at her life ending is mirrored by that of her mother Rachel. Jane notices that Rachel is no longer wearing makeup, that she clings to people. This is a woman stripped bare by grief. It’s very well done.
As for the mystery itself, I did guess relatively early on, which meant that the second half of the novel didn’t quite match the first. Nevertheless, The Girl Next Door is an entertaining, well-written and pageturning portrayal of a family and a community dealing with a terrible act that has no place in a village as perfect as Ashdon.