First published back in November of 2012, Polish born author Ania Ahlborn’s novel ‘The Neighbors’ followed with another dark theme from this intriguing new author.

DLS Synopsis:
After finally deciding that he’s had enough of his deadend life living with his alcoholic and agoraphobic mother, Julianne Morrison, twenty-three-year-old Andrew Morrison packed his suitcase and simply walked away from his job as a supermarket clerk as well as the house he had shared with his mother on Cedar Road.  Having already had an offer from his childhood friend (who he hasn’t seen since they were both nine-years-old), Mickey Fitch, with somewhere else for him to live, Andrew jumps into his beat-up Chevy and makes his way to Magnolia Lane, still within his hometown of Creekside, Kansas.

Upon arriving at the picturesque suburban street, Morrison can’t believe his eyes at the tranquil beauty of this picture-perfect residential paradise.  But as he approaches the white picket fence of 670 Magnolia Lane, he realises his error.  He has the wrong house.  His childhood friend Mickey Fitch lives next-door at 668 Magnolia Lane.  A house that instantly looks out of place within this well-kept and beautifully presented street.  A house that looks tired and left to simply decay.  An overgrown lawn and peeling exterior paint revealing a ramshackle home in desperate need of some serious maintenance.

Arriving at Fitch’s house brings about an awkward first meeting after so many years have passed.  Andrew remembers back to when they last saw each other, on the night that Mickey’s father’s corpse was carted away from his home.  A night that cut short their friendship from that moment onwards.  That is, until now.

Moving into the house with Fitch as his new roommate forces Andrew to contemplate whether this really was the best move for him.  The interior of the house is no better than the exterior.  And his first mission after collapsing in his room is to clean the grotty bathroom from top to bottom.

However, Andrew Morrison’s arrival into Magnolia Lane hasn’t gone unnoticed.  Next-door, Harlow Ward has seen the new arrival on their quaint street and decides that she must bridge the gap between neighbours and offer him a welcome gift - a plate of her homemade cookies.  A heart-warming welcome that Andrew Morrison is truly touched by.

But lying behind the beautifully presented and well-maintained face of Harlow and Redmond Ward’s picture-perfect home and their idealistic lifestyles, lurks a dark and dangerous secret.  On the outside the Ward’s look to be the most welcoming of neighbours.  But behind the facade of their quaint suburban lives, a twisted and psychotic relationship goes undetected.

And Andrew Morrison has just come under the lustful gaze of the flirtatious Harlow Ward...


DLS Review:
Okay, so the plot of the tale is far from original or indeed particularly thrilling.  Let’s face it, the whole ‘dark-secret-lurking-behind-the-perfect-family’ has been pretty much done to death over the years.  But upon picking up Ahlborn’s ‘The Neighbors’ I have to admit that I was somewhat intrigued by how this fresh new author would take the idea into (hopefully) a whole new direction – or at the very least, crank it up a good level or two.

Alas, Ahlborn fails to do any such thing.  Instead, ‘The Neighbors’ merely treads over the same old turf that has been trodden to death – particularly so within much of the 80’s and 90’s thriller-cum-horror fiction.  The remarkably average plot does very little other than take the reader through quite a tiresome number of uneventful hoops to finally arrive at the all-too-predictable conclusion.

Basic is one hell of an understatement.  ‘The Neighbors’ barely manages to pull anything out of the bag that is even remotely away from the one solitary idea that the tale has been created from.  Ahlborn clearly wanted to play with the notion of how serial killers can go undetected.  Look at Fred and Rose West or Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.  The true-life horror of it is all too familiar – and when utilised well, can make for one hell of a powerful and unnerving read.  Sadly, Ahlborn’s ‘The Neighbors’ misses the mark by quite some way.

Aside from the painfully predictable plot (which it must be said is also unnecessarily plodding), perhaps the tale’s biggest crime is making the tale so surprisingly vanilla.  Not once does Ahlborn even attempt to take the proverbial bull by the horns and really smash the reader in the face with something shocking and captivatingly strong.  Not once does the storyline try to grab you by the short ‘n’ curlies and get you utterly creeped out by the actions of these (mildly twisted) psychopaths.  Instead, Ahlborn actually seems afraid of taking the reader down such paths, and merely skims over the real gruesome horror or scenes of any sort of intensity.

The end result is something that feels bland and diluted.  Scared stiff to touch upon anything that might make it even a hint towards being slightly nasty.  The novel is even missing anything even remotely resembling a juicy sex scene – even with such a plotline geared up for something saucy and dark.  The novel really is missing absolutely anything that could possibly raise the pulse rate above that of mildly bored.  Any notion of anything that could be edging towards potentially dark territory is merely touched upon with an annoyingly arms-length approach, only to then be swept under the carpet just a quickly and never mentioned again.  As such, the whole tale feels immensely diluted with an altogether half-hearted approach to anything even remotely resembling a psychological horror.

Outside of this, the tale veers towards being a little too ridiculous to really draw the reader in, with some of the characters’ rationalisation being nothing short of farcical.  Indeed the novel doesn’t really employ any real attempt at believability, but misses the mark of a Richard Laymon style horror-cum-thriller by one hell of a mile.

But it’s not all bad.  There are parts of the story that become quite intriguing.  The characterisation is quite well developed, with hints of empathy for our protagonist’s dilemma beginning to form.  Indeed, there’s just enough in this bare-bones-plot to sustain the entire length of the tale.  Without the slightly disorientating switches in personalities, the novel really wouldn’t have anything in it to keep the reader going.  But it does have these oddly unsettling sudden shifts in the characters’ personalities which manage to keep the reader on their toes for much of the tale.  And so it isn’t all bad.  But it’s certainly not great.

The novel runs for a total of 252 pages.

 © DLS Reviews

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