Published: March 2018 by Mira Books
Genre: Psychological Thriller/Suspense
My Rating: 3.75/5 Stars
Okay. Here’s the thing (that most of you already know if you follow me on Instagram).
Thrillers just aren’t my genre.
They just almost never surprise me. I’ve either a.) gotten them all figured out before I reach the end or b.) spent the entire book anticipating a twist so that no matter how crazy or far-fetched it is, it’s still going to feel like a let down. I find myself flying through these books just to feel very unmoved by the endings (which is sort of the whole reason people read thrillers–for the endings). Or I’m just completely put off by the “unreliable narrator” technique that has come to feel like a lazy way to write.
Some of you might be asking yourselves, “then why does she keep reading them?” My answer is that I don’t want to write off a whole genre entirely. And also I just really get swept up in the book hype and don’t want to miss out on something (and thrillers usually ride the book hype train pretty intensely).
All that being said, I knew going into this book what I was up against (and by that I mean my own bias against this genre). But I found I actually really enjoyed this book, and am glad I gave it a chance.
For the record, I’m wondering if this book should even be considered a thriller? I think domestic or psychological thriller is the term… but there wasn’t a whole lot of edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting suspense with this one. Certainly there’s an element of “oh my gosh what’s going to happen how’re they going to work this out” going on, but it wasn’t really what I would consider to be a thriller, unless you count the very end, when a whole bunch of big reveals and twists all happen at once. (I don’t know–someone more familiar with the genre should weigh in on this and tell me where this should actually be categorized. If I’m totally off base and this isn’t in that genre at all, sorry for the last three hundred words I spent talking about it!)
Before I go any further, I’ll just explain a little bit of what the book is about. It’s told in alternating first person perspectives, shifting between four different characters and jumping back and forth between “THEN” and “NOW.” We’re first introduced to Abby. Now married with a teenage daughter, Abby has been through a lot. Many years earlier, she was responsible for a car accident that killed her brother Tom, who was her best friend. Stricken with grief, Abby shuts out her then-boyfriend, Liam. She is too angry with herself to be with the person who makes her happiest. She turns to Nate, the man who found her at the scene of the accident and saved her life, and is now living a completely different life. She and Nate are married and she’s trying the best she can to live with those dark shadows of the past haunting her. And then Liam and his wife and son move in across the street, and those shadows resurface, along with all the other things she felt back then.
I say this novel really isn’t a thriller because most of the book is about family and marital drama. Both Abby and Nate have their issues, as do Liam and his wife Nancy. And things get really complicated when you throw them all in the same room together. I enjoyed these elements and the way McKinnon looks at relationships and the way they can change (or not) over time. I will say that I’m not sure I actually liked any of the characters… except for Nate, I kind of found myself actively disliking most of them by the end. But I’m not opposed at all to unlikeable characters, and I thought they were all well done here. McKinnon did a good job writing from the perspective of each character and giving them their own personalities. Each one is just a little bit unreliable, but I never felt like we were falling into the tropes of that technique.
I will be honest… I had the plots and the twists figured out from the beginning. For me, that wasn’t a bad thing, because it meant that the big reveals at the end were believable. Often in thrillers, I think the author is trying so hard to take the reader by surprise that the ending is completely unrealistic for the rest of the story. I didn’t think that at all with this one. I thought the “twists” were well timed, and were believable without being too obvious to be boring. Yes, I figured it out, but I liked that I liked seeing that I was correct in my hunches.
Now when I say I had it all figured out, I don’t mean that I saw the actual ending coming.
The event that actually happened at the end was a complete and total jaw-dropping surprise for me. I’m not completely sure how I feel about it. Part of me thinks it had to happen that way, for certain things to come to light. And then another part of me things it was sort of an easy way out. I can’t quite figure out which way I’m leaning… but it is absolutely an ending I will be thinking about for a while, and so in that sense I think it was well done.
This was a fun read, and it made for a good distraction. It didn’t wow me, but it came a lot closer than most other books of this genre have done! I think if you’re a fan of some psychological drama/suspense types, and you like some good twists and turns, this one will be right up your alley. For me, I’m glad I gave this one a chance and I know I’ll be happy to pick up more books by Hannah Mary McKinnon in the future!
2 thoughts on “THE NEIGHBORS BY HANNAH MARY MCKINNON”
I feel the exact same way about thrillers, yet like you, I continue to try them because when you find one that does work perfectly, it’s absolutely amazing! Ever since Gone Girl and Girl on the Train, I feel like the market is so saturated with psych thrillers/domestic noir (whatever you want to call it) just b/c publishers know they’ll sell, so there’s a lot of sub-par choices out there.
The last great psych thriller I read was Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker. The ending rode that line of surprising, yet not outlandish, and still keeping with the story.
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I completely agree with you–the market has been overflowing with thrillers trying to recreate the power of an unreliable narrator. Some of them succeeded, but I feel like it’s become such an overused trope already. (And honestly I wasn’t a fan of Gone Girl to begin with… although I do think it does a better job with the unreliable narrator than most!) I did like Emma in the Night! It was one of the few in this genre that I genuinely liked from start to finish.