When She Comes Knocking a Tour-De-Force Psychological Thriller by Dan McDowell

The Bottom Line: The suburbs have rarely been this terrifying. A tour-de-force psychological thriller that explores obsession, survivor’s guilt and the nature of sanity.  

Grieving pharmaceutical sales rep Ben Decker sells medicine that has two outcomes: addiction or death. After surviving a round of layoffs after an acquisition by a Russian company, Ben manages to find inspiration in a craftsman home across town. The place is a charmer, and Ben has no trouble convincing his wife and son to pick up and move.

But Ben is immediately unsettled by eccentric neighbor Jean Jackson, a divorcee in her late 40s whose mother lived in their home before she died. Author Dan McDowell, known for his gloriously terrifying Nightmare in Riverton series, has created a singular menace in Jean. While Jean’s behavior in the early going doesn’t demonstrate the obvious hallmarks of a psychopath, her unusual behavior and oddly phrased compliments – “I’ll just love seeing your perfect little family through my window” – are enough to give Ben nightmares. Has the delivery of a homemade apple pie ever seemed so sinister? 

While everything about Jean troubles Ben, she becomes – in the words of their son, Davey – “mommy’s new friend.” Compelling conflict between Ben and wife Hannah – who is also full of surprises – rises substantially. By the book’s halfway point, when Jean pops over to issue a warning about water restrictions, it’s clear that Ben is either highly intuitive or a man who is quickly going insane. 

What’s more, McDowell deftly explores survivor’s guilt within the context of a hugely entertaining novel. At work, Ben is one of just 4.3% of people who survived layoffs. Among couples who lose a child, he and his wife are among just 20% of those who have stayed married – at least so far. But what are the odds that he’ll survive the Russian takeover of his company and his intrusive neighbor? When She Comes Knocking is a journey well-worth taking. 

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