I know as soon as I wake that I’m not in London. The silence is broken by a single car – maybe a farmer in his Landrover, delivering a sack of feed. I hear it coming on the only road that snakes through the fields, between stone walls. I hear it passing my cottage and then listen till it fades to perfect quiet again.
Then I’m up, throwing the curtains open, letting the watery winter sunlight in. My windows are so pristine. No traffic to send up exhaust fumes to coat them . And my floors are so smooth under my feet. No grit gathers there to make my soles itch.
I always thought the countryside was dirty – animals and mud – but when I peg out a line of tea towels and watch them twitch and billow in the thin wind that blows off the sea . . . I feel the pure clean rightness of being here and it fills me.
Even when it’s threatening to rain, like today, I can dust, mop and vacuum the whole place, two rooms up and two rooms down, in the hour after breakfast before work. Sets me up for the day like a tonic.
Round at the bookshop, I draw on the good the tonic has done me. I’m done with Biography – at last! – and ready to tackle Homecrafts and Cooking. People are pigs. How hard is it to have a selection of different sizes of clear plastic bag to pop over your open cookbook while it sits on the worktop beside your chopping board? How can anyone stand to have the pages splattered and crusted like that? And why do they think a stranger might buy their crusts and splatters secondhand?
I wipe and wipe and wipe. Sometimes I chip at the pages with the blade of a knife. Occasionally, I give up and smuggle one into the recycling, when Lowell’s not looking. Because of course he’s worse than anyone! Polishes his glasses on his hanky, rinses out his coffee mug under the cold tap in the toilet, puts his toothbrush – not at the bookshop but I can’t stop thinking about it – puts his toothbrush, bristles down, on the sink. The bathroom sink where he washes his hands after . . . I have to stop thinking about it.
Like I stop myself thinking about the money I touch when a customer comes in and buys a book. I take the fiver in my hand and caress the spit of the person who counted it out with a licked finger and the nose of the person before that who scratched while they were waiting for their change and the germs of the one who keeps money in a pocket with the tissue they use to stifle their sneezes and the sweat of the one who put it in her bra or down his sock.
And then the customer holds out a bag of toffees and asks if I want one. If I want to unwrap a sweet with my radioactive hand covered in spit and sneezes and sock juice.
“No, thanks,” I say and try to smile.
“Health nut, are you?” says the customer. “There’s nothing in toffee to hurt you, you know. Typical London.”
Quiet Neighbors is the author’s fifth suspenseful standalones published by Midnight Ink, April 2016.
It’s the oldest bookshop in a town full of bookshops; rambling and disordered, full of treasures if you look hard. Jude found one of the treasures when she visited last summer, the high point of a miserable vacation. Now, in the depths of winter, when she has to run away, Lowell’s chaotic bookshop in that backwater of a town is the safe place she runs to.
Jude needs a bolt-hole; Lowell needs an assistant and, when an affordable rental is thrown in too, life begins to look up. The gravedigger’s cottage isn’t perfect for a woman alone but at least she has quiet neighbours.
Quiet, but not silent. The long dead and the books they left behind both have tales to tell and the dusty rooms of the bookshop are not the haven they seem to be. Lowell’s past and Jude’s present are a dangerous cocktail of secrets and lies and someone is coming to light the taper that could destroy everything.
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About the author
Catriona McPherson is the author of the multi-award-winning Dandy Gilver series of preposterous 1920s detective stories set in her native Scotland, and a strand of also-quite-award-winning darker contemporary standalones. The Child Garden is a 2016 finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark award and Quiet Neighbors (with starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and Kirkus) came out nine days ago. Catriona lives on 20 scruffy acres in northern California with a black cat and a scientist.
Giveaway: Leave comment below for your chance to win a print copy of Quiet Neighbors. US entries only, please. The giveaway will end April 22, 2016 at 12 AM EST. Good luck everyone!
All comments are welcomed.