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When Neighbors Go Bad

In this week’s episode, Brook and Sarah explore mysteries with bad neighbors who turn your home–the place you should feel safest–into a dangerous place.


Rear Window (1954 film) Alfred Hitchock

The House Across the Lake (2022) Riley Sager

The Manor House (2023) Gilly Macmillan

The Watcher (2022 series) Netflix

Those People Next Door (2023) Kia Abdullah

When No One is Watching (2020) Alyssa Cole

Girls in the Garden (2015) Lisa Jewell

And Then She Was Gone (2017) Lisa Jewell

One Little Secret (2019) Kate Holahan

The Woman in the Window (2018) A.J. Finn

The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window (2022 series) Netflix

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This transcript is generated by a computer and there may be some mis-spellings and strange punctuation. We try to catch these before posting, but some things slip through.

SarahWelcome to Clued in Mystery. I’m Sarah.
BrookAnd I’m Brook. And we both love mystery.
SarahHi Brook.
BrookHi Sarah. Happy Friday!
SarahHappy Friday! How are you?
BrookI’m good. And I’m looking forward to talking about neighbors going bad with you.
BrookSo a neighborhood, of course, refers to a specific residential area such as a few adjoining streets, a subdivision, or an apartment complex. But it suggests more than just a geographical location. A neighborhood carries with it a culture and a set of social expectations. The word conjures images of block parties and sharing cups of sugar. The neighborhood is an extension of the surrounding homes. A neighborhood is supposed to be safe, a place for families to grow up. An area where people can be themselves and let their guards down. But doing so can also make those same people vulnerable and living in close proximity to others is the perfect setup for a thriller or a mystery. Authors ask and answer the question “What happens when the neighborly feelings fade?” when neighbors go bad. Who can forget the opening scene of Rear Window when Jimmy Stewart as Jeff Jeffries opens his window blinds to reveal the courtyard to his apartment complex? Also revealed are the windows to each of his neighbors apartments. He sees them involved in their mundane daily activities they’re exercising or hanging out their laundry cooking or practicing hobbies. He tries to stop himself from watching.
BrookBut the urge to catch a glimpse into his neighbor’s private lives is strong. Even when all he sees is a rather boring ordinary day, we know that he will soon see something he’s not supposed to. Something he will regret. The neighborhood trouble trope is very popular in domestic thrillers. The number of results I got doing a quick search for books that include the word neighbor in their titles was astounding. And at first I assumed that most of them had probably been published post 2020, after we’d all been cooped up during the pandemic. I figured authors took to their keyboards after being stuck at home for months on end imagining all those sordid stories. But not so. It seems that the idea of creating crime novels about neighborhoods has been alive and well probably before, but at least ever since, Hitchcock directed that award-winning film. Sarah, you and I discussed in our episode about workplace thrillers how those situations are ripe for the kind of interactions and relationships that can lead to great tension and deep conflicts. Neighborhood thrillers are too. I mean who hasn’t had an issue with a neighbor over a barking dog, loud music, or trash disposal? Plus proximity allows neighbors to learn each other’s secrets.
BrookOr have secret interactions with one another. Places like courtyards walking paths or other common areas are perfect for eavesdropping and watching. In fact, we see the use of binoculars by characters over and over in these stories. Or in Jimmy Stewart’s case, a camera with a telephoto lens. The neighborhood setting isn’t only good for thrillers though. It’s also the backdrop for a lot of detective fiction. In fact, we could argue that every cozy is a neighborhood mystery, given that they’re all set in small towns or villages, where most everyone knows everyone else. I for one have lived most of my life without close neighbors. Aside for a few years here and there I have usually lived in rural areas with lots of empty space between homes. I think this actually makes me more fascinated by this trope where people get overly involved in each other’s lives and why I’m so interested in this conversation with you today, Sarah.
SarahWell thank you, Brook and I will share that I have certainly for my adult life lived in apartment buildings and spent time looking out the window and seeing not necessarily into other people’s apartments but imagining what’s happening when inside other people’s apartments.
BrookRight? And that’s so fun and a lot of the fiction that you’ve read probably then spurs that on like you know you watch Rear Window and then because that’s the setting that you spend your days in it. It gets your imagination going.
SarahExactly. I really liked what you said about the number of books that have neighbor in the title. I was looking at the list of books that I’ve read and really only read them in the last year or so that have next door in the in the title and it’s the the same kind of thing, right? It’s it’s playing on that neighborhood trope and I think there’s, like so many of the topics that we’ve we’ve discussed, there’s a bit of a spectrum, right? There’s that isolated community where there’s one or two houses that are you know more rural environment and your next-door neighbor is you know the only person for miles and that person turns out to be you know, full of secrets and maybe a little bit creepy. Ah, and then the other end of the spectrum is as you say that you know tightknit neighborhood where they have block parties and they you know spend lots of time in each other’s homes but also have a lot of secrets that they’re keeping from each other.
BrookExactly yeah, very well put. This is true like the neighborhood might be rural, but it’s this remote setting and then that adds that layer in of you know there’s no one around to help you. A book that came to mind when you said that was The House Across the Lake by Riley Sager because it’s a vacation neighborhood where you see the the homes all around a lake. But then probably no resources for miles.
SarahThat’s ah, that’s a really great example. I was thinking of a book that I read recently called The Manor House by Gilly Macmillan and it’s that isolated two houses that are within walking distance. But there’s nothing else around them and there’s lots of secrets and lies between the people who live in in those two homes. And I think the thing about any of these neighborhood thrillers is you know your home is where you’re supposed to feel the safest, right? And the idea that there’s someone who can see into your day-to-day life or who is somehow manipulating things in your home is a scary feeling.
BrookYeah I actually think the sensation of fear that I have ah experienced reading some of these almost borders on the same feeling I get if I’m reading a horror novel, just because of that. Like the idea that you’re not safe in your own space or in your own um surroundings. A lot of these stories you see the children go out to play and they’re supposed to be safe because it’s like a shared courtyard or something and then you know you know that they’re not because there’s that one neighbor or maybe a set of neighbors or even you don’t know who the bad neighbor is, but something is going on in that scenario. And it can be very frightening.
SarahAnd that kind of picturesque, perfect on the outside veneer that you might see if you’re driving down a street that you haven’t been before, say you’re looking for for a new house right? And you see all of these houses and everybody looks very happy and and everything is painted very nicely. Ah and you think everyone’s got a perfect life and then you realize that actually there are some secrets behind these perfectly painted fences. Um, and that you know as a reader you get to kind of see what those what those secrets are and some of them are pretty wild.
BrookYes I I think that this trope also has been one of the main categories where I find some outlandish coincidences. Because the other thing that you assume when you’re in a larger neighborhood is that you know one another because you all live nearby but otherwise you’re strangers your lives aren’t interconnected and a lot of these stories end up being that actually 2 people. You know, grew up in the same town or were on the same plane last Friday or something you know and you just like there’s some strange coincidences that happen to make the stories line up. Um, so you just kind of have to take that with a grain of salt when those those happen.
SarahYeah I think I I would agree with that I think some of it is you know if you if you were to read all of the um, these kind of neighborhood thrillers you would think that everybody around you is hiding something all of the time and and hiding some very big secrets.
BrookYes, and having clandestine meetings with one another behind your back.
SarahUm, yeah, yeah I feel like I’m missing out with my um, pretty pedestrian and mundane life.
SarahOne of the things that um I noticed with some of these books is that often. The neighborhood is established a lot of the residents have been there for a long time and it’s a new couple or a new family. Who moves in and they find that oh you know what, there is something not quite right with this other group of people who’ve all lived here for years.
BrookYeah that’s a great observation that’s true. They kind of come in and disrupt the um agreements or something that have already been held by the longstanding residents that definitely happened in a Netflix series. That I watched that was all about a neighborhood called The Watcher and in that situation. It’s just as you described, Sarah they’re going to move to this grand neighborhood. You know the houses are huge. The lawns are perfect and immaculate and everything looks picture perfect and once they move in. They start getting these letters in their mailbox of someone’s telling them that they’re watching them and they know what that what you know we know what you’re doing and um and again start to find out that these people that looked like. Great neighbors, great people to live next door to um, all have their own secrets and are maybe playing a part in the letters and they can’t determine that and um, yeah, it’s very much ah, the neighborhood trouble that you just described.
SarahBut it’s funny. You bring that up, Brook I only watched a couple of episodes of that of The Watcher I know I’ve said this before like I have a pretty um weak tolerance for her for high tension viewing and so I I couldn’t get past I think it was the second episode.
BrookIt was um as you say it was high tension because we talked about that earlier that you know God You don’t want to think about this happening in real life. Um, but we ah nearly didn’t finish watching it because it got very repetitive. So um, it. It it and it doesn’t I will say come to a great conclusion. Um, one of those stories that doesn’t necessarily have a definitive ending. So.
SarahSo you mentioned um, you know moving into a house and seeing all of these neighbors who look perfect. But when you move into a neighborhood, you don’t really do any research into who the neighbors are right like that’s not part of that that moving process. It’s just the particular unit or the particular home that you’re moving into that. Um that you would have information about and um.
SarahI’m thinking about ah there’s a couple of books that sorry and I read ah a book called Those People Next Door by Kia Abdullah where a family moves into an affluent neighborhood that is predominantly white. And the family that moves in is not and there are little signs that maybe they are not welcome in this neighborhood and things escalate very quickly and very surprisingly. So there’s vandalism a pet goes missing um and it there’s no murder in this book. But um, one of the sons ends up being quite gravely injured. It was really interesting because there was this kind of social commentary that was in this story and I noticed that in a couple of um, couple of books in this kind of space that there is that room to explore some of those. Kind of societal tensions that um, that exist right? Um, another one that has certainly um, some social commentary is When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole.
SarahAnd so that’s set in Brooklyn and um gentrification is a real theme of that book. Um, which is you know happening in a lot of places where traditionally poor neighborhoods are being um at. Sorry, where more affluent people are moving into traditionally poorer neighborhoods and displacing the residents who’ve been there for for generations. This one got a little bit wild I will say but it was a it was a really good book.
BrookYou know I’m glad you brought those up because um, that’s True. It is a area to be able to talk about because ah just like we said that the um neighborhood or the area you lived in should be a safe place. Um. It really does have a lot of culture behind it whether or not that’s um, it really does have a lot of culture behind it and when that gets disrupted for whatever reason. Um, it’s very disruptive and and can create a lot of different conflicts.
BrookWell if someone is looking for a place to start in in reading in this subgenre I think that you can’t go wrong with Lisa Jewel she has really kind of carved out a specialty I feel. Um, and a lot of her books circle around the idea of neighborhoods. Um this week I read watching you and this one is about a boy in a neighborhood who is watching what’s going on but there’s also someone else that’s watching as well. And um, then there’s Girls in the Garden that she wrote and this is that idea of like terrace houses who share a common courtyard. And then you and I Sarah for a recent What Would You Do episode discussed. And Then She Was Gone which also concentrates on an urban neighborhood where people run into each other at the market or in the park or at a school where they see common people and ah and get involved with each other’s lives.
SarahThose are those are great recommendations, Brook. And yeah I thought about our what would you do book as as kind of fitting in um, fitting in this space I read. Um.
SarahYou know, looking through the list of books that I’ve read in the last couple of years I realized that I’ve read a lot of books in this space because as you say I think you know it’s a pretty popular trope particularly in the domestic thriller um subgenre. And I read one called One Little Secret by Kate Holohan and so neighbors rent a holiday home together while their kids are at summer camp. I don’t know any of my neighbors well enough that I would ever consider renting shared accommodation for a week but these neighbors all know each other well enough that that seemed very reasonable. Anyway, one of them ends up dead and so this is partly a domestic thriller because there’s lots of secrets and lies. But also partly a police procedural. Told from the police investigator’s point of view and then also told from the point of view of some of the um, the neighbors. So um I thought that was an interesting kind of play on both of those subgenres um
SarahAnother book that I thought of when I was um, kind of looking at my list of books read. Was that The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn. This is a play on maybe a modern Rear Window where um, the character thinks she’s seen something um, happen to one of her neighbors. And then you know tries to figure out. What’s gone on. So that was ah that was quite a I think I read that really quickly I think it was quite a gripping if I remember correctly.
BrookAnd I have to confess that I have not read the book but I have seen the movie and um, did enjoy it a lot And yeah I think that’s a great description. It’s a modern day Rear Window and plays with all these different components that we’ve already.
BrookAnd I think that we would be remiss if we didn’t bring up the fact that this trope has been parodied by The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window. You know it’s popular thing when you get spoofed right.
SarahYeah, and I think we’ve I think we’ve talked about um that I don’t remember was it a show or yeah it was. It was a series right? And I think we’ve talked about it before maybe in our domestic thriller episode. But yeah, that was a that was a very good spoof of the of the genre for sure.
BrookYeah I ah found it funny. I learned that people actually didn’t necessarily understand that it was supposed to be a parody and apparently there were a long list of um internet conversations about how over the top it was and because these people thought that it was supposed to be a real drama. And Kristen Bell just got the hugest kick out of it. So I thought that was a really fun fact.
SarahWell thanks Brook I Think this has been a really fun conversation to talk about the neighborhood trope.
BrookIt has and we’ll all be thinking about what’s going on in those houses as we go through residential areas from now on. Thank you everyone for joining us today on another Clued in Mystery. I’m Brook.
SarahAnd I’m Sarah and we both love mystery.