Review

The Neighbor

by Lisa Gardner

THE NEIGHBOR, Lisa Gardner’s latest work, takes the
mystery and thriller genres into slightly new directions. While the
book features the welcome return of D. D. Jackson, last seen in
HIDE, the Boston police detective is by no means the primary
character. She shares the spotlight with a very enigmatic and
memorable cast of individuals in a novel that tells the story of an
inexplicable disappearance, the investigation of which is hampered
by past events and current shame.

Initially, the premise of THE NEIGHBOR seems to be a deceptively
simple one. Sandra Jones, a young, attractive middle school
teacher, disappears one night, leaving her four-year-old daughter
at home alone and asleep. Her husband, Jason, is a newspaper
reporter who covers the graveyard shift. He comes home in the
middle of the night and finds his wife missing, yet waits three
hours before reporting her absence. D. D. Jackson is assigned to
the case, and immediately senses that all is not right. Jason is
withdrawn, secretive and wholly uncooperative with the police, an
odd set of circumstances that makes the initial law enforcement
conclusion --- that Jason is responsible for Sandra’s
disappearance --- even stronger.

The narrative switches perspective among a number of characters.
Jackson, Jason and, in the days and hours leading up to her
disappearance, Sandra, as well as others, slowly but surely reveal
secrets and events past and present. Sandra and Jason had an odd
relationship that somehow worked, if not always well. Jackson is
all but certain of Jason’s culpability, but there is a wild
card in the mix. A registered sex offender lives just down the
street from the Jones family, and his status as such marks him as a
person of interest almost immediately.

Convicted of statutory rape, Aidan Brewster’s
post-incarceration life is tied together with a fragile rope that
is fraying day by day. Gainfully employed and dutifully attending
support meetings, Brewster’s carefully regulated existence
begins to unravel when Sandra vanishes. Though only a nominal
suspect, he is drawn into the investigation’s orbit. While
Brewster can provide an important piece of eyewitness testimony
that will prove crucial in determining the “why” of
Sandra’s disappearance, the revelation of his past threatens
not only his job, but also his life.

Sandra has her own demons, past and present, one of which turns
out to be responsible for her disappearance. It is Jason, however,
who is a true man of mystery. His efforts to conceal his past serve
him poorly now, even as the search for his wife widens and the net
of suspicion tightens around him. And when Sandra’s estranged
father, a powerful, influential judge, comes to town, everything
kicks into high gear. Just when the suspense is cranked to an
excruciating level, however, a highly unlikely source for the truth
steps forward, one who unwittingly and begrudgingly has the power
to either explain Sandra’s disappearance or leave it shrouded
forever in mystery.

THE NEIGHBOR is one of those incredibly smart mysteries that is
almost impossible to figure out before all is ultimately revealed,
driven in equal parts by a strong storyline and vibrant, sometimes
quirky, characterization. Gardner also raises an extremely
controversial and difficult issue that is just beginning to invade
the public discourse. Should a 19-year-old man who has sexual
relations with a 14-year-old girl be treated the same as a
24-year-old who forces himself or herself sexually upon a
six-year-old? And is it fair to continue to penalize such
individuals after they have served prison time? While Gardner
frames this hot-button topic discreetly, she takes a major chance
by presenting Brewster, a sex offender on one end of the spectrum,
as a sympathetic character who in his own way arguably can be
considered a victim. In the hands of a less capable author this
would tip over into sensationalism, but for Gardner it proves to be
a gutsy move that works.

For many reasons, THE NEIGHBOR will leave you thinking long
after the final page has been turned.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 12, 2011

The Neighbor
by Lisa Gardner

  • Publication Date: June 22, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam
  • ISBN-10: 0553591908
  • ISBN-13: 9780553591903