Source: Review copy
Publication: 19 January 2023 from HQ
My thanks HQ to for an advance copy for review
You can choose your house. Not your neighbours.
WELCOME TO YOUR DREAM HOME…
Salma Khatun is extremely hopeful about Blenheim, the safe suburban development to which she, her husband and their son have just moved. Their family is in desperate need of a fresh start, and Blenheim feels like the place to make that happen.
MEET YOUR NEW NEIGHBOURS…
Not long after they move in, Salma spots her neighbour, Tom Hutton, ripping out the anti-racist banner her son put in their front garden. She chooses not to confront Tom because she wants to fit in. It’s a small thing, really. No need to make a fuss. So Salma takes the banner inside and puts it in her window instead. But the next morning she wakes up to find her window smeared with paint.
AND PREPARE FOR THE NIGHTMARE TO BEGIN…
This time she does confront Tom, and the battle lines between the two families are drawn. As things begin to escalate and the stakes become higher, it’s clear that a reckoning is coming… And someone is going to get hurt.
I don’t read a lot of domestic noir, but Kia Abdullah is a writer whose work I really enjoy, so I dived into this one head first. OMG! From the beginning the tension is there between the next door neighbours and it only ramps up and up until I was holding my breath because in parts it is so unbearably tense you almost don’t want to know what is going to happen next.
The Khatuns have recently moved to this new estate, a blend of social and private housing where everything is well cared for and though the houses may lack character, the estate feels safe and quiet. Their next door neighbours are the Huttons. They too have a teenage son and everything feels like the omens are good for a new start for the Khatuns, especially when they are invited to a neighbourly barbecue just after they arrive.
Kia Abdullah slowly lets us into what lies behind the Khatuns need to move and that only starts to become clear when the somewhat passive aggressive behaviour of next door neighbour Tom Sutton starts to niggle away the family.
We all know people like Tom Hutton. He is a stickler for the rules; a man who will call you out if you have the temerity to park outside his house, despite the lack of any parking demarcation lines. A man who will do his share, but will point this out to others in the clear expectation that they will see they are failing to do theirs.
The Khatuns have moved, in part, so that their son Zain can have a new start. He was getting in with a bad crowd in their last place and they have high hopes for Zain who is currently failing to live up to their high aspirations. The Huttons too have a son, Jamie, who is of a similar age to Zain, so you hope that where the parents fail to gel, perhaps the kids can bring them together?
What’s brilliant about this book is that you can’t help but think ‘there but for the grace of God….’. There can’t be too many people who haven’t had neighbours that irritate them, or worse and Kia Abdullah has recognises how quickly that can become an all-consuming part of your emotional framework if you let it. Kia Abdullah shows how much the class divide can matter in a small neighbourhood and she shows how quickly racial tension can develop.
It is brilliantly done and so quickly develops into toxicity that it takes your breath away. Inevitably, what starts as a small irritation grows and then social media plays its part in fanning the flames of intolerance and prejudice. It is cleverly and plausibly done and I found it compelling.
Those People Next Door will have you taking sides, seeing the other person’s perspective and then switching your opinion back and forward. The tension in this book is palpable and at times, almost unbearable. It builds and builds to a massive crescendo, and culminates in a courtroom.
Verdict: This is such a convincing and compelling book that really has you caught up in the actions of the protagonists, Making judgements, taking sides, contemplating what is racism.. all these things and more go through your mind as events develop. As ever Kia Abdullah ends her story in a confrontation in the courtroom and it is only there and afterwards that we understand how the full picture comes together. Brilliantly done, Those People Next Door is a fantastic thriller and a sure fire winner I’ll be thinking about for some time to come.
Kia Abdullah is an author and travel writer from London. She has written for The New York Times, the Guardian and the Telegraph, and is the author of Truth Be Told and Take It Back, which was named one of the best thrillers of the year by the Guardian and the Telegraph. Kia frequently contributes to the BBC, commenting on a variety of issues affecting the British Asian community, and is the founder of Asian Booklist, a site that helps readers discover new books by British Asian authors. Kia also runs Atlas & Boots, a travel blog read by 250,000 people a month.