The Good Neighbor by A.J. Banner is a contemporary thriller written in the same vein as many like novels flooding the market. Sweet, heroic, innocent wife/girlfriend/female-lead finds that her husband/boyfriend/basic male asshole lead is deceiving her and now finds her life in danger. The monumental success of Gone Girl has made this type of novel very popular and this has created a glut of this type of novel. So it means that a novel of this type needs something special to stand out from the crowd. Unfortunately The Good Neighbor doesn’t have it.
“…He doesn’t know anything for sure.’ Orla looked at each of us in turn, narrowing her gaze, and lowered her voice to a dramatic whisper, forcing everyone to lean in toward her. ‘The arsonist might’ve set fire to the wrong house.’
I dropped my knife on my plate with a clatter. ‘What do you mean, the wrong house?’
Eris laughed. ‘Where did you hear that?’
Pedra sat back, her face pale. ‘Yeah, where?’
‘A trusted source,’ Orla said. ‘The fire might’ve been meant for another house on our block.’
The blood drained from my face. ‘Which house…”
Sarah Phoenix wakes up to the sounds of a child screaming and the smell of smoke in the air.
Shadow Cove, Washington is a quiet little town that families dream of living in. Sarah lives a comfortable life with her husband Dr. Johnny McDonald, until one night, while her husband is away tragedy strikes. Her next door neighbor’s home is on fire and their little baby girl Mia is trapped on the second floor. Sarah rushes and with the help of others, pulls Mia away from the fire, but is unable to save Mia parents. Sarah can only watched as the fire takes their lives and then leaps to her own home. In a single night, the fire consumes everything she owns.
As Sarah tries to piece her life back together, in the ruins of her home she begins to find clues that make her question everything she once thought she knew. From her friends, to her husband, to her very marriage. And then to her very safety as she begins to believe that whoever set fire to the homes is still after her.
The Good Neighbor moves along at an even pace and though there are moments of plenty of action, it is the time in between when the novel loses you. It is the times when Sarah is within herself, putting together the small clues that hint at her husband’s infidelities and her friend’s betrayals that stutter and pause. Whatever momentum that is gained during the action sequences are loss with a rather boring main character. Sarah is likable but her constant insecurity and naive view of her life and marriage leave the reader with an overwhelming sense of the “duh”s. Add onto the story the actions of a teenage girl with an abusive boyfriend that detract from the story and the sudden need to be a surrogate mother by Sarah when everything else around her seems to be falling apart.
Banner tosses so many red herrings into the mix that when the real bad guy comes about, we are not amazed but actually disappointed. Oh really, this is what it is. What might have been a real, tightly woven mystery, slides into a fatal attraction tale of unrequited obsession.
The Good Neighbor is a decent novel that falls somewhere in the middle of the pack.