The New Neighbor
by Karen Cleveland
RH-Ballantine Books | pub date: 26-July-2022
AMBER LOVE 26-Aug-2022 This review is a courtesy provided by NetGalley. To support this site and my other work, please consider being a monthly donor at Patreon.com/amberunmasked; you can also buy my books through Amazon (or ask your local retailer to order you copies). I’m also an Amazon Influencer so you can shop through my lists of recommended products.
Secrets, jealousy, and paranoia collide when a seemingly perfect new family moves into a neighborhood with ties to the CIA in this gripping thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of Need to Know.
“Karen Cleveland ingeniously melds domestic intrigue with the lightning pace of a spy thriller, showing us the devastating personal costs of intelligence work.”—Tess Gerritsen, New York Times bestselling author of Listen to Me
Idyllic neighborhood, perfect family, meaningful career. CIA analyst Beth Bradford has it all—
Until she doesn’t.
Now, facing an empty nest and a broken marriage, Beth is moving from the cul-de-sac she’s long called home, and the CIA is removing her from the case that’s long been hers: tracking an elusive Iranian intelligence agent known as The Neighbor.
Madeline Sterling moves into Beth’s old house. She has what Beth once had: an adoring husband, three beautiful young children, and the close-knit group of neighbors on the block. Now she has it all. And Beth—who can’t stop watching the woman stepping in to her old life—thinks the new neighbor has something else too: ties to Iranian intelligence.
Is Beth just jealous? Paranoid? Or is something more at play?
After all, most of the families on the cul-de-sac have some tie to the CIA. They’re all keeping secrets. And they all know more about their neighbors than they should. It would be the perfect place to insert a spy—unless one was there all along.
THE NEW NEIGHBOR takes a readers on a relentless series of Beth Bradford’s hunches and paranoia. There are constant doubts about her reliability as the narrator with this first person perspective. Everyone—absolutely everyone—in Beth’s life thinks she’s mentally degrading when her marriage breaks up and she has to face an empty nest at a new “home” for the first time in nearly twenty years.
Early on in The New Neighbor, Beth and her husband Mike face the shift in their family composition as the last child is dropped off at college. One daughter is already overseas; the other married and about to settle into her own idyllic house. Beth constantly flashes back to the happier times when she and Mike were inseparable and when the children were small and excited about living on the cul-de-sac.
As the publisher’s summary states, all of these neighbors on the cul-de-sac in the D.C. suburbs have connections to the CIA specifically or other government ties. The case that Beth has run for fifteen years is a target working for terrorist Reza Karimi and this target, believed to be an American turned traitor, is Beth’s white whale. She’s unceremoniously booted from her own case and sent to the academy to teach, a sign of the CIA not thinking she’s fit for field work or analysis.
Beth and Mike are supposed to be going their separate ways into new smaller living accommodations. However, Beth cannot let go of the love and memories of their old house on the cul-de-sac and how close all the neighbors were. She obsessively monitors the wife of the new couple who bought her house. As anyone can see coming, this irrational obsession blows up in her face at the midpoint of the story. Karen Cleveland never ever gives Beth down time. Her idea of down time is repeatedly watching the few minutes of home security footage she has of Madeline and her husband looking at the house before they move in. If it’s not that footage, Beth finds ways of stealing classified information she can no longer access. This pace is continuous within Beth’s mind as she questions every decision she ever made and whether or not any of her friends are traitors.
Karen Cleveland has Beth (and readers) suspicious of every single character in every chapter. Not only will readers also doubt Beth’s mental health, but as with life and government ties, no one is ever completely honest.
By the second half of the book, poor Beth faces reversal after reversal. There are new prime suspects as to The Neighbor’s identity every few chapters. From seventy percent through to ninety-seven percent, it’s still anyone’s guess as to who The Neighbor is, their location, and the people who have been recruited to give up information for Karimi.
After the climax, the ending moments are brilliantly twisted. The new woman living in Beth’s old house, Madeline, gets a chapter from her perspective. This is the first time readers are in someone else’s head. It has a huge impact.
Likewise, the Epilogue is a shocker. No spoilers.
Other than extremely minor nitpicking about how well-trained people would or wouldn’t put loaded pistols down their waistbands rather than in holsters that fit inside waistbands, there’s nothing to criticize.
Rating: 5 stars