Sunday, May 1, 2016

Quiet Neighbors by Catriona McPherson

First Sentence:  It was the last thing on her mind when she fled across London. 
Escaping from her life, Jude returns to a small village she’d visited before.  As a cataloguer, she is drawn to the bookshop there and the kind owner who takes her under his wing, giving her refuge and a job.  Their partnership grows, as does the household, and Jude moves to the gravedigger’s cottage where the neighbors are quiet and the books have their own stories to tell.  But even the residents of the graves are beyond writing threatening notes.
Ah, the description of a booklover’s dream—“Books.  Wavering, tottering piles of books.  Brick-stacked towers of books.  Woven dykes and leaning sires and threatening landslides of books.”  And, as we’re talking about books, one has to love an author who entices the reader to look up unfamiliar words.  Plus, who amongst us hasn’t thought of running away from it all at times—“Suddenly she was living in a Anne Tyler novel.  A world where you can set down one life, walk away, and pick up another.”  McPherson paints a picture whereby that seems a perfectly logical action for Jude.
The story has an absolutely delightfully enigmatic plot.  One really has no idea where the path is going, but neither is one remotely likely to step off it.  There are wonderful small literary and film references sprinkled throughout—“Do whistle if you come across anything called ‘Love's Labour’s Won,’ won’t you?”
There is such an interesting group of characters—unreliable voices, all—but each delightful and appealing in their own way.  There are three generations of characters; Lowell, the older bookshop owner; Jude, and young Eddy in her 20s.  Not only does that add interest and layers to the plot, but to the dialogue—“We shall leave you in peace to continue your…” Lowell stopped talking and stared at her.”  What did you say when I arrived?  “he asked.  “Communing with the spirits of the dead?”  “Interleaved ephemera,” Jude began.  The were words to make ninety-nine out of a hundred listeners glaze over—Eddy snorted like a hog with hay fever—but Lowell was the hundredth, and his eyes lit up.”  One can’t but help to come to love Eddy.  Some of her expressions can make one laugh in the midst of a tense moment.
There is a lovely build up of something mysterious, and a well done revelation.  However, a couple of completely unnecessary and annoying portents completely drop one out of the story and also dropped down my rating.  Does the author really not trust that since we’ve read this far, we’ll continue to the end? 
In the end, “Quiet Neighbors” leaves us with all the questions answered, all the mysteries solved, and at peace with this lovely group and small Scottish village.  For what more could one wish?

QUIET NEIGHBORS (Myst-Jude-Scotland-Contemp) – VG
McPherson, Catriona – Standalone
Midnight Ink, 2016

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