Let me preface this review by saying, I thoroughly enjoyed Leah Stewart's THE NEW NEIGHBOR. However, I have to warn you all, it is very different from the books I usually recommend, which are characteristically raw, gritty, tough, fast-paced reads. This book was a huge change of pace, but I'm so glad I gave it a shot.
THE NEW NEIGHBOR follows the intersecting lives of two characters. Margaret, an elderly woman living on a mountain in Tennessee, has become accustomed to a life of solitude, a life which is interrupted by a new neighbor on her mountain. An avid mystery reader, Margaret describes what she looks for in a mystery read in one of my new favorite quotes:
(I love that so much, I wrote it down on a sticky note and am keeping it on my desk. Seriously.) Margaret finds herself a real-life mystery in Jennifer, the story's second leading lady. Jennifer is Margaret's new neighbor, moving to the mountain to escape a past stained by the death of her husband, a mysterious incident for which Jennifer was blamed. Trying to shed the reputation of "murderer," Jennifer has fled to rural Tennessee with her young son. The reader doesn't know whether or not Jennifer is in fact responsible for the death of her husband—we discover bits of Jennifer's past along with Margaret, as the elderly woman investigates her mysterious new neighbor. Margaret's storyline involves the unveiling of her own past to Jennifer; as the two women interact, Margaret divulges information about her time spent as a nurse in World War II.
Stewart's THE NEW NEIGHBOR was reviewed by Booklist as a "mystery and literary-fiction hybrid," and that is the most accurate way I could characterize this novel for you. It moves slowly, spending significant time unraveling the facets of the two women's unique pasts. It is not a cat-and-mouse mystery; there are no cops, no car chases, no shocking plot twists. In this case, slow and steady really does win the race. Stewart builds a moody, layered mystery that contemplates the remnants of our past, and the ways we try to hide them.
Thank you to Simon & Schuster for introducing me to this thoughtful, contemplative read.