Written by Fiona Cummins — Anyone remember Brookside? It was a Channel 4 soap opera, set in Liverpool, which was very popular during the 1980s, 90s and nearly noughties. The action all took place in and around Brookside Close, and one of the most explosive storylines was when an abused wife killed her violent husband and buried him under the patio in the back garden.
Let’s leap to the present day and The Avenue, a quiet suburban street in a small Essex town. Like Brookside Close, appearances can be deceptive and every single resident of this unassuming street has something to hide. In fact, one of them is a serial killer…
Welcome to Fiona Cummins’ latest book. It’s her first standalone, following in the wake of Rattle and The Collector, and fans will be happy to hear that it boasts plenty of her trademark menacing twists and turns.
Things begin innocuously enough with a children’s party held in a toy shop. But this toy shop has a hint of the Stephen King about it and in addition to a celebratory puppet show there are lots of creepy dolls… In fact, the only thing missing is a scary clown to add to the unease of the event.
Something goes badly wrong, and that something has repercussions in the present day, where a serial killer dubbed the Doll Maker is casting a pall over The Avenue and its inhabitants. The unknown murderer’s modus operandi is to leave his victims unblemished, except for the fact that their eyes are removed and replaced with doll eyes, with their faces painted like a doll’s too.
Sounds like anything but a perfect time to move into The Avenue, doesn’t it? But that’s exactly what the Lockwood family do, taking advantage of a cheap deal to move from the debts and disillusionment of leafy Cheshire in the hope of building a new life down south. Garrick is an architect while wife Olivia is a freelance PR. They see it as their chance to repair a rocky marriage. Their children, nine-year-old Evan and teenager Aster, see it as a huge mistake. When they arrive with the removals van, only to see a sheeted body being removed from the woods behind their new home, all four begin to question the wisdom of it.
The police are already struggling with the case, the the identity of the latest victim knocks things up a notch, especially for DS Wildeve Stanton. At a time when she’s desperate to work with the rest of her team, she finds herself sidelined. Frustrated, she teams up with a former colleague and the pair begin a separate investigation. I loved Wildeve, from her wonderful name to the complicated emotions bestowed upon her by author Cummins. Wild is right there at the centre of it all, while around her spins a maelstrom of secrets, some tawdry, some downright dangerous.
We’re offered fleeting glimpses of the killer’s mind and motivation in short chapters which whet the appetite and drive you on to read more and more. Almost all of the action happens in and around The Avenue, adding to the feeling of the walls closing in as you devour page after page, possibly well past your bedtime. The Neighbour contains little of the gory detail that has previously set this author’s books apart from the herd. This book is not quite up to the gut churning standards of Rattle and The Collector but you will enjoy it all the same. Instead, Cummins plays with your emotions – and very well she does it too.
Print, eBook, Kindle
CFL Rating: 4 Stars