Tuesday, 28 January 2014

THE KILLER NEXT DOOR by ALEX MARWOOD Reviewed by Valerie Laws

 Having loved Marwood's first thriller The Wicked Girls, I was looking forward to reading this and wasn't disappointed. This brilliant book is a challenge for faint hearts - the richness of detail about the squishier aspects of murder, dismemberment and death, to say nothing of drains and sewage, is unsparing and relentlessly vivid, showing solid research behind skilful and exciting, and at times darkly funny, narrative.  The plot (or perhaps more accurately suite of interwoven plots) is tense and intense, claustrophobically trapped inside a London house divided up into flats/rooms in a heat wave, each tenant haunted by dark, life-threatening secrets and fears, and so much seems to be revealed right from the start, that you can't believe there can be any twists to come, but there are, and they keep coming! There is a serial murderer 'killing for company' a la Dennis Nilsen, right there in a crowded city, in a crowded house, undetected by his closest neighbours, some of whom are no longer around...  we're not sure which one he is out of several men - but this isn't the only character acquainted in some way with the Grim Reaper by any means.  The various strands of the plot twist tighter as the drains and the tenants' psyches become blocked, rancid and reeking, as their lives begin to melt and stick together, with a chain reaction of further deadly results building up and up to a sweaty climax.

Despite the gruesome descriptions this is actually a warm-hearted book, with characters you can believe in and warm to, in particular the 'three ages of women' trio of on-the-run Colette, teenage runaway Cher and the effective 'house mother' Vesta. Vesta has lived in the  house most of her life, a limited life she's aware of having wasted yet which becomes more precious as her tenancy is threatened by the sleazy, ghastly landlord who has yet more secrets of his own. Colette has accidentally witnessed horrible torture and death elsewhere and is ever-moving, just keeping a step ahead of the crims who chase after her, constantly reinventing herself, terrified of becoming known or attached to anyone yet bone weary of running. Cher has escaped from the laughably named 'care system' and despite her fragility, and heart-breakingly young age, she has a cat-like genius for just managing to survive those who'd use her beauty and vulnerability, though at great cost to her health and safety. There's also handsome asylum-seeker Hossein with his tragic back-story of torture and disappearances sanctioned by an evil state, and other characters too, all drawn revealingly as people yet keeping their secrets until they blurt out like an overflowing toilet. Even the serial killer is understandable and in a strange way logical in his sad, lonely spiral of destruction.

The loneliness and precarious nature of London living is a central theme - people are cut off from family, no-one knows what they are up to, or what is being done to them - even a young, attractive, employed, seemingly normal person could just disappear and nobody take much notice, a horrific thought. But in reaction to this, people also form alliances, substitute 'urban family' groups, helping each other through their hardest times.

The sadness of murder victims' ends is not skimmed over or neglected either, balancing out the horror of killing and the physical challenge of dealing with human bodies. I read with real dread, worried about what was going to happen to these people I'd got to know, desperate to find out if those already dead would be avenged or at least acknowledged by the world, unable to stop reading until the satisfying end. This is another must-read from Alex Marwood. It's out on Kindle now, the paperback will be published June 2014.