Penguin Books, 2014, 400 pages
Everyone who lives at 23 Beulah Grove has a secret. If they didn't, they wouldn't be renting rooms in a dodgy old building for cash - no credit check, no lease. It's the kind of place you end up when you you've run out of other options.The six residents mostly keep to themselves, but one unbearably hot summer night, a terrible accident pushes them into an uneasy alliance. What they don't know is that one of them is a killer. He's already chosen his next victim, and he'll do anything to protect his secret.
This is Alex Marwood's second book (under that name — Marwood is actually the pseudonym of Serena Mackesy). I liked her "debut" novel, The Wicked Girls, well enough to pick up the next one, and now she's joined my stable of thriller writers to follow.
Marwood writes gritty English crime thrillers. In The Wicked Girls, we got a look at the lives of two girls who'd gotten into trouble as teenagers, and the very different paths their lives took because of how the system treated them. In The Killer Next Door, we have a collection of down-and-outers in the seedy part of London, all living in a shabby rental unit with your typical sleazy landlord.
The eclectic personalities — the 15-year-old runaway, the Iranian political refugee, the septuagenarian who's lived in this dump her entire life, the ex-bartender who's wanted by the police and by gangsters — are all trying to mind their own business when a series of events brings inevitable disruption into their lives. First, there's the sleazy landlord, who would really like to get rid of Vesta, the old lady whose secured tenancy is costing him so much money. Then there are the people after Colette. And finally, there is the serial killer living amongst them.
The last element is, of course, the major twist in the book, and Marwood spends plenty of time delving into his psyche and the world through his POV. A really nasty, self-pitying world it is, too, and quite plausible. You almost want to feel sorry for the pathetic little schmuck, except for the fact that he's a serial killer who lures women into his apartment so he can murder them and then turn them into mummified "girlfriends" to share affection with. Marwood does not stint on graphic descriptions of bodily fluids and effluvia. So, this is a pretty violent and gross novel.
But it's very well done, and underneath the crime thriller aspects (there isn't much time spent teasing the reader about who the serial killer is, since the suspect list is so small), it's also a harsh look at modern British society, with its underlying class system still very much intact, and the "poshes" and the not-so-poshes living in very different worlds. Marwood's sympathies are clearly with the not-so-poshes, as all her protagonists are people who've been kicked around a lot by life, but keep going and sometimes manage to get back up.
Very much recommended if you fancy a thriller set in a dark and gritty London that doesn't resemble anything you see on the BBC. 8/10.
Also by Alex Marwood: My review of The Wicked Girls.
My complete list of book reviews.