Written by Cass Green — “Neighbours, everybody loves good neighbours…” as the theme tune for the series of the same name goes. It continues by saying that good neighbours become good friends – but do they? Or could there be something sinister lurking below all that bonhomie?
Meet Hester. She’s retired and lives in London with her little dog Bertie. When she and her husband bought their property, the area was considered to be on the wrong side of the North Circular, but these days it’s on the up and up and attracting people with more money than taste. Hester has just completed a computer course at the library. That’s about as exciting as it gets for her these days.
In the past, Hester tried hard to get on with Melissa, who lives next door. She even baby sat Melissa’s daughter, Tilly, when she was little. But now Tilly is a teenager and away at boarding school and somehow the friendship between Hester and Melissa has cooled.
Hester keeps a close eye on the comings and goings at Melissa’s house – not nosy, just interested, you understand – and an Ocado delivery packed with bottles of bubbly and assorted other booze alerts her to an upcoming party. Time to bury the hatchet perhaps? Hester sets to with a vengeance, creating enough baking to feed an army. The scones are turned away, but she wangles an invite to the do… Result!
Melissa, meanwhile, has spent most of the day (and a hefty £600) at the beauty parlour in revenge against her husband Mark’s recent infidelity. The party is to celebrate her daughter’s exam results but Tilly doesn’t seem too keen. Mark, a doctor who has recently been snapped up by television and is fast achieving cult status, is delayed by filming. She has enough to contend with and Hester is an unwelcome distraction. It’s easier to invite her to the shindig than create a scene.
Hester sticks out like a sore thumb and disgraces herself by getting blind drunk after her drinks are spiked. The following day she calls around to apologise and finds a flustered Melissa standing over a body, bloodied pestle in hand. Cometh the hour, cometh the resourceful pensioner. They must get rid of the corpse and thus begins a road trip worthy of Thelma and Louise (although my own pet name for the pairing is Barbie and Joan). Hester knows just the place and seems to have things in hand, but there’s plenty of drama ahead for this star-crossed duo and it’s certainly worth joining them for the ride.
It’s a gruesome tale perhaps, but there’s plenty to keep you guiltily chuckling as the story progresses. Melissa and Hester are an odd combination and it seems that the more we learn about them, the less we really know. Both women have secrets and at times it is a toss-up as to who is controlling whom. It’s great fun following the teetering balance of power as it wavers like corn in a strong breeze, but underestimate these women at your peril!
It’s a while since I’ve smiled so much while reading a crime novel – Fidelis Morgan’s The Murder Quadrille springs to mind – and the writing is so pin sharp that it’s easy to see this book making the small screen. Hester, Melissa and sundry supporting characters would certainly translate well to television.
Cass Green is the pseudonym of Caroline Green, an award-winning author of fiction for young people. She is the Writer in Residence at East Barnet School and has been a journalist for over 20 years. The Woman Next Door is her first novel for adults – I certainly hope it won’t be her last!
CFL Rating: 5 Stars