The Child Next Door by Shalini Boland is described as “an unputdownable psychological thriller with a brilliant twist.” Despite my belief that English is a dynamic language that should incorporate the variants of all users, I have a problem with “unputdownable.” I tend to avoid novels with such “cute” language in their titles. Google has no problem; there are several pages devoted to websites with “unputdownable” in their titles. I would download this novel anyway because of the author; I previously read and reviewed The Secret Mother. Shalini Boland novels are good.
There are some unusual sounds coming from the baby monitor that woke up Kirstie. Two people are speaking of just taking the baby and going somewhere. Kirstie fears for her baby’s safety. But Daisy is safe in her crib. So, who were the voices on the monitor? Had they been scared off? Would they try again later? These questions will occupy Kirstie’s thoughts throughout the novel as the plot to find out who is trying to steal “the” baby wanders down very twisted paths. There will be more than one shocking ending.
There are several interesting characters that will attract reader attention as suspects. Perhaps the only person who is not a suspect is Kirstie, the mother of infant Daisy. If a reader entertains the possibility that Kirstie is crazy, even she might be a suspect. That is what many of the other characters come to believe to include husband Dom. Following a favorite police belief that any trouble in the home might involve a spouse or relative, Dominic (Dom) is a suspect. He had an affair earlier with Kirstie’s frenemy so Dom’s fidelity is in doubt. Dom also works increasingly late hours and when he comes home it is only for a few hours or minutes before he is absent for triathlon training. There is a lot of unaccounted for time.
When Dom comes home after work he makes a frequent stop at a neighbor’s home, the Cliffords. They are a younger couple and Rosa Clifford is quite attractive. For some visits husband Jimmy is not home during Dom’s visits. Dom does not tell Kirstie about the visits. Kirstie finds out from a creepy neighbor and neighborhood gossip, Martin. Kirstie would like to avoid Martin, an annoying person who needs the company of a doll while he works on his train or Leggo collection, but Martin craves company. When he has gossip to share, such as about Dom’s neighborly visits, he feels a need to tell Kirstie. While inside Martin’s home, Kirstie discovers that Martin’s house has a basement. No other home has a basement and Martin added his only a few years before. Kirstie spots a crib and toys near the entrance to the basement and she immediately suspects that he may be planning to kidnap and imprison Daisy. Her schemes to find out what is in the basement occupy a major portion of the novel.
There is the mysterious character of Callum. Before going on family leave for the birth and care of Daisy, Callum had been her student but had dropped out and now worked for his father. Callum pops up throughout the story in several creepy ways. At times, Kirstie finds him in her kitchen. His rationale for appearing near Kirstie is Hannah, a neighbor fifteen-year-old girl that Callum loves platonically. Hannah’s parents hate Callum and forbid any relationship between the two so there is a lot of skulking around, secret meetings, and furtive scurrying in the dark. Kirstie is not aware of the depth of this relationship and mistakes Callum as one of the figures trying to steal Daisy. Hannah’s father was the principal at the school where Kirstie worked so there was the guarded relationship of employer/employee. Hannah’s parents, Hannah, and Callum were not Kirstie’s friends.
There are enough subordinate characters to keep readers guessing about Dom’s fidelity and Kirstie’s sanity. Kirstie is either going crazy or is the subject of a clever gaslight campaign. If Dom is faithful, he continues to act in multiple ways with several characters that give Kirstie cause for suspicion. And there are a couple of surprise endings. I gave this five Amazon stars for the cleverness of the reader distractions that will make the surprise endings … surprising.
And yep, it is an unputdownable, page-turner, fast-paced one session read.