The Downstairs Neighbor,
by Helen Cooper
Publication: G.P. Putnam’s Sons; February 16, 2021
About: One House. Three Families. Countless Secrets.
From her downstairs apartment in suburban London, Emma has often overheard the everyday life of the seemingly perfect family upstairs–Steph, Paul and teenage daughter Freya–but has never got to know them. Until one day, she hears something that seizes her attention: Freya has vanished and the police are questioning Steph and Paul about their life. Do either of you have any enemies? Anyone who might want to harm or threaten you?
The effects of Freya’s disappearance ripple outward, affecting not just her parents, but everyone who lives in the building, including Emma and local driving instructor Chris, who was the last person to see the teenager before she went missing. Each character’s life is thrown into sharp focus as devastating mistakes and long-held secrets are picked apart and other crimes come to light–including a child gone missing twenty-five years earlier, and a shocking murder–that make clear that the past never stays where we leave it, and that homes can be built on foundations of lies.
The Downstairs Neighbor is the debut novel of author Helen Cooper and has been categorized as mystery/thriller, as well as, women’s psychological fiction. There are three tenants in a shared house in London. There are Paul, Steph, and their seventeen year old daughter Freya upstairs. Emma is downstairs, and Chris and his wife Vicky are in the lower apartment with a separate entrance. One afternoon, Steph comes home to an empty home when Freya should be there. She asks her neighbors if they have seen her and tries to reach her husband but as the hours pass, they realize that she is missing. The result is a twisted “guess whodunnit” from multiple POVs as you try to figure out what happened to Freya and who each of the characters really are. The story is told from Paul, Steph, Chris, Emma and Kate’s POV, although Kate’s POV is a flashback from 25 years earlier. It’s sort of confusing at times, but works overall. As typical with so many thrillers, it takes no time at all for every character to seem that they are a potential suspect – but there is so much more to this novel.
I probably only read about 10-15 novels of this genre a year, but when I do, I typically dive in and don’t stop reading from beginning to end. It took me several times to really commit and invest into this one. I’m struggling to describe why, but it took me a little bit to get into it. So, from about the 15-20% mark on my Kindle app until about the 70% mark I was completely consumed. Every narrator was unreliable in their own way, there were tons of lies and inconsistencies, and there was no indication whatsoever as to what happened to Freya. I was in love with this book and no one could tear my attention away. But then it happened. Things got way too busy and too complicated. There’s a fine line between too little, just enough, and too much. Everyone’s personal baggage and secrets started leaking out and unfortunately, some of them were just silly. Yes, they explained plot points, but it just seemed a little much. I felt like my brain was getting cluttered and just on complete overload.
Despite all of that, I will say that Helen Cooper surprised the hell out of me multiple times. I never imagined the novel ending as it did and for that, I give her kudos. But Emma coddling her son Zeb was exhausting, Paul’s weird previous life storyline made so sense and was boring, and Steph’s secrets were just weird. This is a good book and if someone asked if I recommend it, I would say yes. However, it didn’t need quite so much “stuff.” Had Paul’s side story been left out, I think it would have been absolute perfection. Or maybe a bit less of Emma’s whininess? But overall, this was a pretty good read. Considering this was her debut novel, bravo!
*Thanks to NetGalley for providing this ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.