It’s been ten long months since Anna Fox last left her home. Ten months during which she has haunted the rooms of her old New York house like a ghost, lost in her memories, too terrified to step outside.
Anna’s lifeline to the real world is her window, where she sits day after day, watching her neighbours. When the Russells move in, Anna is instantly drawn to them. A picture-perfect family of three, they are an echo of the life that was once hers.
But one evening, a frenzied scream rips across the silence, and Anna witnesses something no one was supposed to see. Now she must do everything she can to uncover the truth about what really happened. But even if she does, will anyone believe her? And can she even trust herself?
TUESDAY, October 26
‘This time last year, we’d planned to sell the house, had even engaged a broker; Olivia would enroll in a Midtown school the following September, and Ed had found us a Lenox Hill gut job. “It’ll be fun,” he promised. “I’ll install a bidet, just for you.” I batted him on the shoulder.
“What’s a bidet?” asked Olivia.
But then he left, and she with him. So it flayed my heart all over again when, last night, I recalled the first words of our stillborn listing: lovingly restored landmark 19th-century Harlem gem! wonderful family home! Landmark and gem up for debate, I think. Harlem inarguable, likewise 19th-century (1884). Lovingly restored, I can attest to that, and expensively, too. Wonderful family home, true.
My domain and its outposts:
Basement: Or maisonette, according to our broker. Sub-street, floor-through, with its own door; kitchen, bath, bedroom, tiny office. Ed’s workspace for eight years—he’d drape the table in blueprints, tack contractor briefs to the wall. Currently tenanted.
Garden: Patio, really, accessible via the first floor. A sprawl of limestone tile; a pair of disused Adirondack chairs; a young ash tree slouched in the far corner, gangling and lonely, like a friendless teenager. Every so often I long to hug it.
First floor: Ground floor, if you’re British, or premier étage, if you’re French. (I am neither, but I spent time in Oxford during my residency— in a maisonette, as it happens—and this past July began studying français online.) Kitchen—open-plan and “gracious” (broker again), with a rear door leading to the garden and a side door to the park. White-birch floors, now blotched with puddles of merlot. In the hall a powder room—the red room, I call it. “Tomato Red,” per the Benjamin Moore catalogue. Living room, equipped with sofa and coffee table and paved in Persian rug, still plush underfoot.
Second floor: The library (Ed’s; shelves full, cracked spines and foxed dust jackets, all packed tight as teeth) and the study (mine; spare, airy, a desktop Mac poised on an IKEA table—my online-chess battlefield). Second half bath, this one blued in “Heavenly Rapture,” which is ambitious language for a room with a toilet. And a deep utility closet I might one day convert into a darkroom, if I ever migrate from digital to film. I think I’m losing interest.
Third floor: The master (mistress?) bedroom and bath. I’ve spent much of my time in bed this year; it’s one of those sleep-system mattresses, dually adjustable. Ed programmed his side for an almost downy softness; mine is set to firm. “You’re sleeping on a brick,” he said once, strumming his fingers on the top sheet.
“You’re sleeping on a cumulus,” I told him. Then he kissed me, long and slow.
After they left, during those black, blank months when I could scarcely prize myself from the sheets, I would roll slowly, like a curling wave, from one end to the other, spooling and unspooling the bed- clothes around me.
Also the guest bedroom and en-suite.
Fourth floor: Servants’ quarters once upon a time, now Olivia’s bedroom and a second spare. Some nights I haunt her room like a ghost. Some days I stand in the doorway, watch the slow traffic of dust motes in the sun. Some weeks I don’t visit the fourth floor at all, and it starts to melt into memory, like the feel of rain on my skin.
Anyway. I’ll speak to them again tomorrow. Meanwhile, no sign of the people across the park.
WEDNESDAY, October 27
A rangy teenager bursts from the front door of number 207, like a horse from the starting gate, and gallops east down the street, past my front windows. I don’t get a good look—I’ve awoken early, after a late night with Out of the Past, and am trying to decide if a swallow of merlot might be wise; but I catch a bolt of blond, a backpack slung from one shoulder. Then he’s gone.
I slug a glass, float upstairs, settle myself at my desk. Reach for my Nikon.
In the kitchen of 207 I can see the father, big and broad, backlit by a television screen. I press the camera to my eye and zoom in: The Today show. I might head down and switch on my own TV, I muse, watch alongside my neighbour. Or I might view it right here, on his set, through the lens.
I decide to do that.
It’s been a while since I took in the facade, but Google furnishes a street view: whitewashed stone, faintly Beaux-Arts, capped with a widow’s walk. From here, of course, I can set my sights only on the side of the house; through its east windows, I’ve a clear shot into the kitchen, a second-floor parlor, and a bedroom above.
Yesterday a platoon of movers arrived, hauling sofas and television sets and an ancient armoire. The husband has been directing traffic. I haven’t seen the wife since the night they moved in. I wonder what she looks like.
I’m about to checkmate Rook&Roll this afternoon when I hear the bell. I shuffle downstairs, slap the buzzer, unlock the hall door, and find my tenant looming there, looking, as they say, rough and ready. He is handsome, with his long jaw, his eyes like trapdoors, dark and deep. Gregory Peck after a late evening. (I’m not the only one who thinks so. David likes to entertain the occasional lady friend, I’ve noticed. Heard, really.)
“I’m heading to Brooklyn tonight,” he reports. I drag a hand through my hair. “Okay.”
“You need me to take care of anything before I go?” It sounds like a proposition, like a line from a noir. You just put your lips together and blow.
“Thanks. I’m fine.”
He gazes past me, squints. “Bulbs need changing? It’s dark in here.”
“I like it dim,” I say. Like my men, I want to add. Is that the joke from Airplane? “Have . . .” Fun? A good time? Sex? “. . . a good time.”
He turns to go.
“You know you can just come on in through the basement door,” I tell him, trying for playful. “Chances are I’ll be home.” I hope he’ll smile. He’s been here two months, and I haven’t once seen him grin.
He nods. He leaves.
I close the door, double-bolt the lock.
I study myself in the mirror. Wrinkles like spokes around my eyes. A slur of dark hair, tigered here and there with gray, loose about my shoulders; stubble in the scoop of my armpit. My belly has gone slack. Dimples stipple my thighs. Skin almost luridly pale, veins flowing violet within my arms and legs. Dimples, stipples, stubble, wrinkles: I need work. I had a down- home appeal once, according to some, according to Ed. “I thought of you as the girl next door,” he said sadly, toward the end.
I look down at my toes rippling against the tile—long and fine, one (or ten) of my better features, but a bit small-predator right now. I rummage through my medicine cabinet, pill bottles stacked atop one another like totem poles, and excavate a nail clipper. At last, a problem I can fix.’
To read chapters 1 and 2 see Liz Loves Books
Anna’s life is tragic, and circumstances force her to become a voyeur, vicariously living through her window. The world of black and white noir thrillers her only escape. She drinks to forget and to soften the edges of her painful, lonely existence. Ten months she has lived alone, terrified to leave what should be her dream home. She exists on a cocktail of medication, which she either forgets to take or overdoses on, so when Anna sees something shocking, though the neighbour’s window she is not a reliable witness.
Everything is seen through Anna’s eyes but is what she sees, part of her delusional state or something sinister? I like Anna and feel a connection with her. Is she a victim of paranoia, or a conspiracy? Or does the truth lie somewhere in between?
Perfect pacing means that even where there are lots of details and drunken confusion, these don’t hinder the story but inform the reader. Although, given the unreliableness of the narrator, not everything you discover is true.
The characters are vivid, as is the setting and the suspense building is cleverly done. The atmosphere moves from mundane to terrifying seamlessly and has more impact because of this.The plot is twisty and the shocks when they come, alter facts you were sure of, making it essential to turn the page and see what happens next.
Anna’s condition is treated sensitively, Sharing poignant memories and longings with the reader, which keep her character and the story believable.
A worthwhile read, some of the twists you may guess, but there are some you won’t. The ending brings the suspense to a crashing crescendo as the mystery is solved and Anna has to decide whether she wants to live or die. Reading these scenes is like watching a film, just like the black and white thrillers Anna loves.
I received a copy of this book from Harper Collins – Harper Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
A.J. Finn is the pen name of Dan Mallory, vice president and executive editor at William Morrow. Dan has written for numerous publications, including the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the Times Literary Supplement. A native of New York, he lived in England for ten years before returning to New York City. He is an Oxford graduate, with a life-long love of the thriller noir genre, and a particular appreciation of Hitchcockian cinema.