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Neighborhood Watch by Cammie McGovern


Some children hover adoringly forever, others want nothing from you but their freedom. I know that. I've been watching mothers with their children all my life. I've never thought it would be easy, but I also never pictured heartbreak like this: estrangement, mental illness, love that grows an edge and expresses itself only in the pain it inflicts

from page 103

It didn't take long to finish this book (as compared to the one I read right after this: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake from which I took a break of several days before I decided to finish reading the last half in one night). I've never read anything by Cammie McGovern, but I think I'll try some of her other books. This particular novel, I think, will have a special place in every librarian's heart because the narrator is a former librarian who goes away for a murder she believes she committed but didn't really. That's right. And no, the murder victim was not a patron from her library.

Betsy is a mousy, former librarian who has spent the last twelve years in prison for a neighbor's murder that, it turns out, she did not commit. Upon her release, she is advised by her attorney to poke around the old neighborhood and contact former neighbors in an effort to put the pieces together that will reveal who really killed Linda Sue that long ago night. And so Betsy returns to her old neighborhood where everyone who once lived there while she did has since moved away--all except Marianne and Roland who have taken her in and provided her a place to stay in the wake of her release from prison.

Betsy embarks upon a reflective journey of introspection: examining both her memories of that night and the days leading up to it and her perceptions of events occurring at the time, analyzing those perceptions and the lives of her neighbors, the secrets they kept and how these memories and perceptions reflect upon the present. Betsy realizes that both her married neighbor and her husband's childhood friend, Geoffrey, had secrets of their own to hide. Not least of which was Geoffrey's affair with Linda Sue that everyone believed made Betsy jealous enough to kill her in the midst of a somnambulatory episode.

Slowly Betsy's narration reveals the incidents of damage suffered during her childhood that are alluded to and that first sparked her somnambulatory episodes and the unexplained infertility that has robbed Betsy of the children she wanted so much have caused their damage. Indeed it was damage enough for Betsy to confess to a murder she didn't commit because in that moment she no longer cared about her future or what it held for her. All of this leads the reader to wonder just how reliable is she as a narrator. Consider her childhood trauma, her somnambulatory episodes, the brood of children that live so vividly in her imagination, and her years spent in prison because while Betsy claims to have an unusual memory for small details from years ago, she also admits that certain periods are for her a blur or a blank.

Soon it becomes clear that Marianne and Roland have secrets they want to keep hidden, and the more Betsy discovers of their secrets, the more she wonders just how it is connected to the events that took place on the day Linda Sue was killed.

This beautifully written book reads almost like a thriller; it was a page turner right up to the last page.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

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