I'm a fan of the occasional thriller novel, crime novels that center more on the thrills of the case than on the detection itself. When I spotted Lisa Gardner's The Neighbor: A Detective D.D. Warren Novel on my reading list, I thought I'd give it a try. I'm pretty glad I did, although there’s a "been there, done that" feeling to the whole book. Despite that, it's a good read if you're in the mood for that sort of thing.
A family where both parents have something to hide. A four-year-old girl who is innocent of it all but loves both of her parents deeply. When Mom disappears in the middle of the night with no signs of forced entry, all suspicion of course turns on the husband. Since Mom is a beautiful blonde, blue-eyed teacher of twenty-three, the media unsurprisingly gets involved, too. Sergeant D.D. Warren of the Boston police must navigate these troubled waters to discover if the father is much more horrible than his cool façade makes him out to be, but things aren't adding up. Why is he literally showing no emotion about his wife's disappearance? Why is he not actively trying to help them solve the mystery? Just what is he hiding, and if he didn't kidnap and kill her, who did? And what did the daughter see that night that could break the case open?
The Neighbor: A Detective D.D. Warren Novel is full of twists and turns, flashbacks slowly dripping out details of this family's life and history like a leaky faucet. Many chapters begin with what seems like journal entries either from Sandra Jones (the missing mother) or Jason Jones (the too-cool father) talking about their past or what happened over the last few months before Sandra's disappearance. There's a lot of hinting going on, such as what happened between them in February as Sandra keeps talking about, but the facts themselves don't come out until the end. It's an interesting format for the novel. While I found it frustrating at times, feeling like it was drawing the book out more than was necessary, it did heighten the tension and provide some of the twists.
In most of these novels, the main viewpoint character is the detective, and we see things unfold as she digs deeper for the truth. In this one, we also get Jason's viewpoint, providing a clear indication that Jason is innocent of these charges (unless, of course, he's lying to himself, as I've seen some books do). This gives Gardner the opportunity to compare the outside view of Jason, the cold, calculating, seemingly emotionless man, with the internal view we get where he's just looking after his daughter and afraid that any investigation will lead to his own secrets coming out into the open. We also get a few other viewpoints which mainly serve to provide information from a different perspective, but they aren't as important as these two.
Gardner's characterization is pretty good, although Warren seems a bit two-dimensional - not a good thing in a main character. I realize that this is a continuing character from previous novels, but I just didn't feel like I knew her that well. Some of her personality comes through in the investigation scenes, but not enough to really get to know her. The only thing that really gets established is that she hasn't had sex in quite a while, and she's getting increasingly frustrated because of that. That's not a good hook to hang a character on, especially when it serves no purpose in the plot and is only referenced a couple of times throughout the novel. Normally, it would serve as a touch of character atmosphere, but it’s inadequate when it is the only thing that comes to the surface.
I did enjoy the author’s characterization of Jason and, to a lesser extent, Sandra. She captures the weird dynamic of this family perfectly, making the interesting revelations that come out about both of these characters actually make sense and cause me to care about them. Ree, the daughter, is a mixture of childish innocence and precociousness that comes close to grating but doesn't quite cross that line.
The rest of the characters are fairly basic, though not done too badly. Aidan, the registered sex offender who lives down the street, is pretty interesting and also gets some viewpoint chapters. We see inside the life of those on the registry who have been released on parole, and Gardner gives the reader a good illustration of what life is like in that situation.
There's nothing really wrong with The Neighbor: A Detective D.D. Warren Novel, with the exception of the Warren characterization issue mentioned above. Gardner's prose style is spare and to the point, but it keeps you reading. The Jones family secrets kept me reading more than the prose, but whatever works. I did definitely enjoy the novel.
But why didn't I enjoy it more? I'm not sure. The ending seems tacked on after the climax of the book, for one thing. One chapter basically cleans everything up, at least for the reader. Some of Jason's activities, once we find out about them, just strike me as superfluous, especially since Sandra didn't know about them before she disappeared; thus even using them as inspiration for her doesn't work. This, plus not really being invested in the main character, left me with a mild feeling of disappointment.
But don't let that stop you. If you like crime thrillers, The Neighbor: A Detective D.D. Warren Novel is a good one to pick up. It's a great example of the genre, and thankfully Gardner delivers a couple of interesting characters to follow, since the main one is so blah.