The Killer Next Door is the second thriller by Alex Marwood (aka Brit novelist Serena Mackesy), whose first novel, The Wicked Girls (2013), won an Edgar for Best Paperback Original.
Marwood’s descriptions of 23 Beulah Grove, a seedy apartment building in South London, make you want to turn your head away and run somewhere else—fast. Who could live in this moldy, dirty, depressing place, where closed doors and secrets are the norm—especially considering the equally moldy, dirty, lecherous landlord, who raises the rent at will?
Fact is, the six people who live here don’t want their names on any lease that could trace them, so they’re stuck. They’re all running from something, all enclosed in their individual bubbles of solitude as they try to hold onto their hard-won anonymity. We get to know each one: Cher, the abused runaway; Gerard, a divorced former teacher; Thomas, a loner with a hidden core of take-charge authority; Collette, a runaway hiding from a dangerous man who wants her dead; Hossein, a refugee from Iran; and Vesta, a prisoner in her own claustrophobic life.
There are horrific crimes being committed under the roof of 23 Beulah, but only the perpetrator knows about them. These terrible deeds might have remained secret, if not for a series of “accidents” that finally, if reluctantly, bring the tenants together in a slowly developing alliance of trust that begins to open their doors to one another. The criminal and the crimes will certainly garner readers’ attention, but the real story lies between each of the six tenants and their fat, secretive landlord. Marwood realistically portrays the series of seemingly random events that slowly bring the main characters out of their shells and into a shared world.
Each character’s plight is woven into that of his or her fellow travelers, and the storyline succeeds as readers get to know the foibles and strengths of each one, depicted in a natural and unforced way, without the fake dramatic flourishes that often diminish a story of this kind.
The author heaps on a lot of unnecessary gruesome detail in several chapters describing the criminal’s mad, demonic and deadly labors. The story would have fared better with fewer of these scenes, which seem inserted just to titillate our horror taste buds.
The Killer Next Door is more than a horror fest and stands on its own as a drama of people struggling with their very real inner demons.