One of the staples of the recent slew of psychological suspense novels is the disruption of the domestic space. Houses often are not homes: they are places where the worst can and does happen. On this list of books are novels where not only is a house a site of trouble (or worse), but another problem lurks uncomfortably nearby. These are books with noxious neighbors, though admittedly, often the root of the problem is in the narrator’s warped perception of the people in the neighborhood rather than the neighbors themselves. Still, there are plenty of creeps lurking in these pages, enough to make you avoid eye contact, give a dismissive wave, or otherwise ignore the people on your street.
The House Swap by Rebecca Fleet
Caroline and Francis are thrilled when they get an offer to swap their cramped city apartment with a lovely house in a tree-lined suburb of London for a week. In their new swanky digs, Caroline is pursued by one of their neighbors, Amber, who is quick with an invitation to coffee and conversation. Yet Caroline keeps discovering strange signs of her life in their house swap, which is otherwise impersonal to the point of feeling like it’s been staged. When Amber reveals more about the house’s owner, a woman named Sandra whom Amber similarly befriended, Caroline’s suspicions about Amber’s motives wander into dangerous territory. What does this new neighbor want from her, and how come she keeps finding evidence of her past in this sterile seeming house?
A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil Hogan
Did you buy your house from Mr. Heming? If you live in the small, bucolic English village where Heming runs the only real estate business, chances are you did. But what you don’t know is that Heming has kept the keys to every house he’s ever sold—which includes every house in the village—and he likes to pop in from time to time to see how his neighbors and former clients are living. But Heming’s hobby starts to get risky when a body is found in the backyard of a client’s home, and he worries that someone will catch on to his extracurricular activities. A creepy and cool book, Pleasure will make you suspicious of the entire profession of real estate brokers, who seem, after Heming, to be manipulative and invasive voyeurs.
The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
Anne and Marco Conti are a perfect seeming couple, complete with a newborn baby, Cora. Marco runs his own business, and Anne cares for Cora full-time. Their calm life goes haywire after Cora is kidnapped while Anne and Marco are at the couple next door’s house for an intimate dinner party. Cynthia, sexually forward and disdainful of Cora’s motherhood, and her husband, bland Graham, used to be close friends with the Conti’s before Cora’s arrival. Even after their teenage babysitter cancels, Anne and Marco decide to keep their dinner date, alternating checking on Cora every half-hour. When Anne finds Cora gone at 12:30 AM, the police quickly become involved, with both Anne and Marco as the primary suspects. But it turns out Cynthia and Graham have secrets too, which might have bearing on the kidnapping. It’s up to the irascible Detective Rasbach to try and figure out what happened to Cora, and where she is now, before it’s too late.
Sacrifice by Sharon Bolton
Many of Bolton’s excellent standalones could be on this list. She specializes in serving up unusual and sparsely populated locations where neighbors are all up in each other’s business. Sacrifice is set in the Shetland Islands (though Bolton has made up Tronal island where the action takes place), probably best known for Ann Cleeves’s Vera Stanhope series. In Sacrifice Tora Guthrie, a doctor and avid equestrian, has moved to Tronal island with her husband, Duncan. Tora is disturbed when she finds one of her beloved horses has been killed, but even more alarmed when she discovers the corpse of a young woman. Tora is determined to find out what happened, despite being discouraged by the local police, who are conducting their own investigation. The island is so isolated her neighbors must know something—in fact, one of them is probably responsible–but people on the Shetlands are suspicious of newcomers like Tora and try to evade her questions and thwart her investigation. Tora thinks, “Socially, economically, and historically, the islands are unusual; geographically they border on the bizarre…sometimes I think that Shetland and its people have spent centuries fighting the wind and the sea…and losing.”
The Other Mother by Carol Goodman
Daphne Marist is trying to escape an abusive relationship. In the service of saving her and her newborn daughter Chloe’s life, she takes a job as an archivist under an assumed name at a Catskills mansion. The mansion shares its lush grounds with a mental hospital, a fact that troubles Daphne, who has been diagnosed with a post-partum mood disorder. Soon, Daphne and Chloe meet another mother-daughter duo, a mother named Laurel who also has a daughter named Chloe. Laurel and Daphne become fast friends, sharing secrets and exchanging woes about new motherhood. But Laurel’s motives are not entirely pure, and Daphne, who already has her share of secrets, finds herself drawn into Laurel’s half-truths and lies which threaten the life she’s trying to build for herself and her daughter.
The Orphan Choir by Sophie Hannah
Louise Beeston and her husband, Stuart, have a son who is a gifted singer. He’s so talented he wins a place in the choir at a prestigious boys’ school, which leaves homemaker Louise at loose ends. But soon, she starts hearing classical music coming from next door; even after confronting her neighbor, Mr. Farenheit, no one admits to playing the music which is driving her insane. Not even Stuart hears it, as it most often plays while he is at work. The Orphan Choir has a steady, sinister build, as Louise becomes more determined to escape the music. Louise’s problems become even more acute as she buys a vacation home for the family to escape the music, only to find that there’s choral music, the type her son sings, floating around the new development where their second home is located. Will she ever get to the bottom of the music haunting her, music other people can’t hear, music that connects her to her beloved son?
The Reckoning by Jane Casey
The entirety of Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan series is worth reading, but the Reckoning is particularly creepy. Kerrigan, a DI in London’s Met police force, is a dogged and sharp investigator. When she starts receiving strange gifts, she assumes it’s related to her work. Even when she gets the sense that someone is watching her, and following her, she chalks it up to the job. Yet it’s not one of the serial killers she’s tasked with catching who is causing these disturbances in her off-duty life. To say more would be to spoil the books, so just read them.
Edith’s Diary by Patricia Highsmith
Picking a favorite Highsmith novel is a daunting task, but Edith’s Diary is among my favorites for its power and flat-out strangeness. Edith Howland moves with her husband, Brett, and her son, Cliff (called Cliffie) from Greenwich Village to rural Pennsylvania. Soon after Brett’s uncle, the bedridden George, moves in, putting Edith in the unenviable position as his caretaker. In order to let off some of her stress Edith starts keeping a diary, peppered with accounts of her friends and neighbors, and the life of her family. But her family life breaks down: Brett leaves her for a younger woman, George becomes ever more obstinate, and Cliffie refuses to do anything with his life. Yet in her diary everything is perfect, or better than perfect: she and Brett are still in love, she’s forged close relationships with her new neighbors, and Cliffie goes to Princeton and acquires a doting girlfriend. As the variance between her diary and her real life becomes impossible for her to bear, Edith retreats into the happier world of her diary, with consequences for everyone around her.
The New Neighbors by Simon Lelic
Jack and Syd are ecstatic when they find a London property they can afford. Sure, there are some drawbacks to the house: it’s still full of the detritus of the previous owners, like outdated furniture, piles of records, and taxidermy mounted on the walls. More disturbing is the fact that a crime has happened before the action of the novel started, and the reader learns the details through Jack’s and Syd’s alternating points-of-view. As Jack writes, early in the book when the house is full of promise, “The house seemed less creepy than it had before and more characterful. Less gloomy, more atmospheric.” Jack tries to keep up his cheerful façade while Syd is tougher and harder to impress. Yet it is Syd who gets drawn into the drama of her neighbors, when she has plenty to worry about at home.
The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
Anna Fox, a former therapist, now lives alone in a huge Harlem brownstone. She divides her time by drinking and taking pills, watching old Hitchcock movies, and going online to play chess and counsel other agoraphobes like herself. Oh, and she likes to watch her neighbors, Rear Window style. When she spies what she thinks is a crime at the Russells, the family across the street, she wants to take action but cannot leave her house. Woman in the Window has all of the claustrophobia and suspense of the best Hitchcock movies: Fox (and Finn) have excellent taste.