The Killer Next Door

By Alex Marwood

(Penguin, $16 paperback)

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These days, especially in congested urban areas, we're all guilty of minding our own business a little too much.

Because we all have our own problems, don't we? That's certainly true of the characters we meet in 23 Beulah Grove. They all live solitary lives, consumed by huge personal problems, and just happen to rent rooms in the same dingy boardinghouse in South London.

A run-down, formerly opulent Victorian family home broken up not into apartments but into bedrooms, it's a grubby-romantic setting, appealing if not exactly "cozy" like the classic British mysteries. The strangeness of the surroundings makes what's going on inside the house seem less like a gritty true-crime than a cinematic thrill-ride. Which is good, because one of the six tenants is a deranged serial killer who has been picking off young women, and he's not done yet.

This isn't exactly a mystery. We know from the start that the killer must be one of two creepy dudes who live in the house, and we're told midway through the novel which one it is. Author Alex Marwood ( the best-selling pen-name of British author Serena Mackesy) is more interested in letting us get to know each of the residents one by one.

There's pretty, sass-talking young Cher, the occasional pickpocket who's come from Liverpool to get a new start in life. And Collette, who hops from city to city, trying to outrun the bad guys who are after her. Elderly Vesta is the mom of the place; she grew up in a large apartment downstairs and, after her parents died, inherited it - along with a secure tenancy clause that allows her to pay a tiny rent on a place that's worth a fortune in today's market. The only person in the house who'd turn up in a Google search is Hossein, the handsome young Iranian refugee who is all over the news for his efforts to gain asylum in the U.K.

The author's depiction of the killer and his infinite sadness is insightful, real, and just a bit harrowing, but she keeps the rest of the story bright and entertaining. The Killer Next Door will keep you on your toes and keep you turning the pages, but probably won't keep you up at night.

Well, maybe just once, to double-check that the door is locked.