REVIEW: The Stranger Next Door by Miranda Barnes
You never know where you’ll find love…
Anna Thompson, a 30-something widow and a mother of two, lives in the quiet village of Branton in Northumberland and leads a safe, simple life with her children. She is relieved when Moorside, the empty house next door is finally bought and looks forward to meeting her new neighbours, but rumours soon spread about the mysterious and solitary new resident.
Anna receives her first dose of his strangeness when she hears him out in his garden with a chainsaw in the middle of the night. Who is this man? What is he doing in his garden? And who is the mysterious woman that rolls up in her car and let’s herself into his house the very next day?
After a series of sleepless nights, thanks to her new neighbour’s midnight garden activities, Anna decides something must be done. With a letter of complaint, Anna hopes all will go back to normal…
That is until she finds her new neighbour injured at the back of the garden, trapped under a massive branch. The mysterious woman eventually approaches Anna and introduces herself as Elizabeth Ferguson, sister of her neighbour. But is all as it seems?
Elizabeth discloses that Daniel is far from well. He is an ex-soldier, suffering from serious facial disfigurement and psychological injuries. To top it off, he is also an insomniac and a recluse. The more Anna gets to know Daniel, the more she realises that this man wants is a fresh start in life.
When a sudden fire erupts in Anna’s kitchen, Daniel rushes in and as he becomes the village hero, Anna and Daniel start to get closer. Feelings start to develop…But then another mysterious woman appears on Daniel’s doorstep! This time with a suitcase. Who is she? And what does she mean for their blossoming relationship?
Dear Ms. Barnes,
I decided to read this novella on the strength of the first one of yours I read, “Days Like These.” It immediately pulled me into the story despite me not knowing much more about Anna’s mysterious neighbor than she does.
Anna has a great relationship with her friends Derek and Pippa – laughing and joking – but they’re there for her as well if she needs backup. Because that neighbor would spook me too; hiding in his house all day, peering out of windows from behind the curtains and only coming out into the garden at night. Thankfully her friends back her up in mutual affront at the chainsaw serenades at night.
But what is going on? Why the mystery and reclusive behavior? A midnight rescue of the man next door from a fallen log yields a major clue as Anna catches a glimpse of his ruined half of a face. Meanwhile Anna starts to move forward with her own life. Perhaps learning to drive and getting a part time job now that she’s been a widow a few years. Oh, noes. I have heard how challenging British driving tests are.
Anna and her children have such a realistic relationship – sometimes frustrated, sometimes joyous but always loving. I agree with Pippa and Derek when they say Anna does such a good job as a mother. Her friendship with Pippa is a hoot as well. They seem like best friends.
House damage – been there, been dazed and shocked, done that. It’s only after Daniel has saved the day that Anna realizes how much it must have cost him to plunge into a burning building. I like how Anna persists in moving past her and Daniel’s initial awkward moments about what happened in his past. She’s got a good instinct for the fact that something needed to be said to allow them to move past discovering what happened.
Then she works on his anxiety at being seen in the village and meeting the people there. They really seem to have that small town feel of knowing everyone and everything but not in an intrusive way. Rather in a caring way. And they’ve got the subtle British humor thing going. Still Daniel isn’t at ease immediately. He’s got mental as well as physical issues to deal with and I’m relieved there’s no magic “cure” whereby everything is suddenly hunky-dory. Their relationship drifts forward calmly but it takes a fairy godmother – or rather Daniel’s sister – to put things on the right footing and everyone on the same page.
So another well told story in compact novella length. I get a feel for the characters, can see and imagine them and the village. There’s nothing extraneous tacked on, no filler or fluff. I enjoyed it even more than the first story and I’m looking forward to exploring more of your work. B+