In Cammie McGovern’s third novel, Neighborhood Watch, she probes the underbelly of a quiet, undistinguished neighborhood in a small Connecticut town—an unlikely setting for a brutal murder.

Twelve years earlier Betsy Treading, the “Librarian Murderess,” was convicted of bludgeoning her neighbor, Linda Sue—a social misfit in their cookie-cutter community—to death. Now Betsy has been released from prison, finally cleared by DNA testing, and she realizes that in order to erase any lingering suspicion about her guilt, she must find the real killer herself.

Gradually Betsy fleshes out the secrets and lies merely hinted at in her trial, uncovering hidden relationships and family rifts that eventually lead to a completely unanticipated conclusion. Her neighbors 12 years earlier formed a complex mishmash of personalities, including Marianne, who organized neighborhood watch parties where women could buy pastel-colored Taser guns; her husband Roland, who conducted clandestine cold fusion research in their basement; their daughter Trish, who became pregnant at 15 and found a sympathetic ear in Linda Sue; newly married Geoffrey, a celebrity writer accused of plagiarism; and Linda Sue herself, a loner who exhibited disdain for the whole neighborhood scene, and who became the object of Geoffrey’s wandering eye.

Injected into this intriguing murder mystery are a number of side plots which at times seem intrusive—Betsy’s five miscarriages, for instance, about which she constantly grieves, reliving all the sad details; her somnambulism, which caused her initially to believe in her own guilt; and her unlikely relationship with Leo, an inmate in the male prison adjacent to her own. But all in all, McGovern succeeds with her latest offering—as both biting social commentary and a literary page-turner.

 

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