Excerpt from Quiet Neighbors by Catriona McPherson, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Quiet Neighbors

by Catriona McPherson

Quiet Neighbors by Catriona McPherson X
Quiet Neighbors by Catriona McPherson
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2016, 360 pages

    Paperback:
    Apr 2018, 360 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Mollie Smith Waters
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Quiet Neighbors

When Jude crossed the road and tried the handle, she half expected to find Lowland Glen locked too and was ready to sit in the bus shelter, then retrace her journey to Newton Stewart, Castle Douglas, Dumfries, with a night in one of the tired hotels clinging on in a tired town, then a train south and the tube home to face the music.

But the door opened.

There were one or two more carrier bags stacked in the passageway, but otherwise nothing had changed. Well, the light was different—no sunshine competing with the lamp behind the curtain—and there was Calor Gas as well as tobacco and dust in the bouquet today as she pulled aside the heavy brocade and stepped through. Also, this time, the man was at his desk, sitting with the fawn cardigan around his shoulders and a cup of greyish coffee steaming.

"I—" said Jude.

"I'm just—" he said, sliding something into a drawer and turning back to face her. He pushed his reading glasses halfway up his forehead. "Aha!" he said, slamming the drawer shut. "Ha-ha-HA!" He turned to the other side and rummaged in a pigeonhole. "It came in September. I saved it for you."

Jude stared, then stepped forward and picked it up. The Day of Small Things, it was called. A bright dust jacket, the sandy pink and blue of a beach scene; that same brisk young woman, or one just like her, in a warm jacket and beret, larking among the rock pools with the terrier.

She didn't even know she was crying until he stood and hurried round the desk to remove the book from her hand, brushing at a teardrop before it could soak in and dimple the shiny paper. When he had set it down well out of the way, he turned back and, taking a large, ironed, cotton handkerchief from the pocket of his trousers, held it out to her.

She dabbed her eyes with it still folded. She really wanted to shake it out, bury her face in it, and howl, but, breathing carefully in and holding the breath, she managed to stem the flow.

"Is everything all right?" the man asked her.

"No," said Jude. "Nothing."

"Good for you!" he cried, making her look up. She bowed her head for the shame of it all. "I admire honesty above all things," he declared. "Quite right to give a pusillanimous question the answer it deserves!"

And then she was lost. Exhaustion and embarrassment were in there; fear too, and dread that she hadn't run far enough away. O. Douglas in the Nelson edition tugged hard, reminding her of the last happy day, but what finished her was someone sounding pleased and giving praise. If he only knew, Jude though, he would throw her out, lock the door, call the cops. But he was smiling at her and now the pain was coming up inside her like dark yolk in a lava lamp, trembling and eddying but always rising, until it burst out in a long howl, bringing hot gusts of fresh tears and leaving her hacking and jerking, her seam of grief cracked wide.

"Shush now," he said, wrapping his arms around her. And, "There, there." He rocked her as she shrieked into his cardigan front somewhere near one armpit. "Oh, my," he said. "Dear me. Shush now."

Jude cried until her scalp was sweaty and her stomach quaking, then she drew back, unfolded the handkerchief, and blew her nose hard.

"Now, that must feel better, surely," the man said, sounding pleased with her again, even though all she'd done was wreck his hanky.

"Thanks," she said. "Thanks for the book."

"It's a gem," he said. "And if you like it as much as I know you will, the happy news is that there's a companion volume. The Proper Place. Now dry your tears and I shall give it back to you."

It was still hard to explain what happened next.

"I'm so—" Jude started to say.

"Don't apologise."

"—tired," she finished. That's what people said when they were going to kill themselves. One of the women at work did a weekly night shift with the Samaritans, and she'd told Jude all about it. If they say they're angry or sad or desperate, you can talk them round. But the ones who say they're tired . . . Well, what can we do? More talking when they're exhausted already?

From Quiet Neighbors by Catriona McPherson. © 2016 by Catriona McPherson. Used by permission from Midnight Ink, www.MidnightInkBooks.com.

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