The Good Neighbor by Cathryn Grant (Inkubator Books, 2020)
Recently I was at a doctor’s appointment and my physician asked if I had read anything good lately. Then she offered a tip to read The Good Neighbor by Cathryn Grant.
The Good Neighbor starts off with an intriguing Prologue. In fact, the first line of the novel reads, “There was so much blood. It wasn’t at all what I expected.” The line has been reeled out and we’re hooked. The mention of blood in the first paragraph is always an attention getter.
The narrative of the book is done through the multiple character point of view, which has become more popular in recent years, to the consideration of being cliché. When each character gives a snippet of the story, (making chapters three or four pages long) told from his/her viewpoint, two things happen. One is that there is a lack of consistency in the narrative; the other is that the author does not have a way to delve into character development in the story. This would have been a better told tale if we had an omniscient narrator, or a single person narrative.
The lack of significant character development is a deterrent in the quality of The Good Neighbor. Writers at the top of their game will say that the most important element of storytelling is the characters in whom the reader invests. When insufficient background happens in character construction, it is impossible to care about that character. This does not necessarily mean that the character has to be like able; Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs and Daniel Blank in The Third Deadly Sin are among the most heinous and fun villains ever created. However, we love to hate them because we get enough background on the development of their psyches, their personalities, and their motivations to understand their importance in the stories being told.
The premise of The Good Neighbor is that 14 year old Brittany Cushing disappears from her home one night and her parents assume immediately that their daughter has been abducted. The police are not so easily convinced that a kidnapping has occurred. Suspicion almost always falls upon the parents in the beginning of a missing person investigation, as it does in the Cushing case.
The Cushing family has moved to Silicon Valley recently. The quiet neighborhood, complete with its nosy gossips, such as Taylor, is reminiscent of the cul de sac in the 1980s television show, Knots Landing. The group of families enjoy barbecues and wine fests, but below the surface there are secrets brewing that will unravel as the mystery of Brittany’s disappearance is investigated.
On the day that the Cushings had moved in, Taylor, their new next door neighbor watched as the moving men extracted furniture from the truck. She notes, “The movers emerged from the vana carrying a glossy white child’s bed. Next came four posts and an assortment of supporting bars to hold a canopy, followed by a white dresser with drawer pulls depicting the faces of baby animals.” From the look of the child’s furniture, Taylor is surprised when a tall, beautiful teenager gets out of the car with her parents. Taylor notes, “Something didn’t fit.”
We learn from Brittany that she is tired of her mother keeping her under lock and key, treating her like as if she was fragile. Mom does not allow her to go on the internet without parental guidance, she is prohibited from hanging out with other kids and making long-lasting friendships. Brittany feels cut off from the rest of the world and begins to forge her own path by sneaking out of the house to spend time with the neighborhood bad boy, Luke, and some of his friends. It is clear that Brittany is beginning to rebel against her parents’ tight control of her life just before her disappearance.
The novel is a page turner, with a lot of unexpected developments right down to the final word. However, the ending is rushed as well as implausible to me. I wish that Grant had taken a little more time in writing the reactions of the characters to the events as they unravel so that the finale isn’t so rushed. Due to the fact that the ending comes Pow! Pow! Pow we do not get the important dénouement to satisfy us.
Would I recommend this book to other readers? Not to lovers of Joyce Carol Oates and Toni Morrison, but certainly to people who enjoy light thrillers. I didn’t hate the book, but I wouldn’t put it in the same category of John Fowles The Collector or Robert Bloch’s Psycho either. If you want to read classic thrillers, try one of those.