Monday, 18 December 2017

Blog Tour: The Perfect Neighbours by Rachel Sargeant - Book Review, Extract & Author Q&A

The perfect neighbours tell the perfect lies...
A dark and twisty psychological thriller from a rising star in the genre.

When Helen moves abroad with her loving husband Gary, she can't wait to meet her fellow expat teachers from the local International School. But her new start is about to become her worst nightmare...

As soon as the charming family across the way welcome Helen into their home, she begins to suspect that all is not as it seems. Then Gary starts to behave strangely and a child goes missing, vanished without a trace.

When violence and tragedy strike, cracks appear in the community, and Helen realises her perfect neighbours are capable of almost anything...

Today on Pretty Little Books, I'm delighted to be welcoming author Rachel Sargeant to the blog. Her psychological thriller, The Perfect Neighbours, was released on Friday just gone with Killer Reads, and today, I'm sharing my book review of this novel, an extract for your reading delight AND an author Q&A with Rachel for my stop on the blog tour. So go and grab yourselves a nice hot cuppa, relax, and enjoy!

Author Q&A with Rachel Sargeant 


Hi, Rachel, and welcome to Pretty Little Books! I'm delighted to have you here today. First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I live in Gloucestershire with my family and work as a school librarian, promoting books and reading to young children. I studied German and Librarianship in Aberystwyth University and managed libraries in the south east before moving to Germany where I taught English at a university. On returning to England, I managed a lifelong learning project for Shropshire County Council and took up writing as a hobby. The Perfect Neighbours is my third published novel.

Why do you write?
It took me a long time to get going when I decided to try writing. Before I got down to it, I read a lot of 'how to' books and attended a few courses. But once I started I couldn't stop. I get twitchy if I don't write for a few days. My notebook goes everywhere with me so that I can jot down ideas before I forget them.

What's the best and worst thing about being an author?
The best thing is being free to write whatever I want. In my stories, I can even control the weather. The hardest part is waiting to hear whether readers like what I've written. And making sure people find out about my books is also difficult. Like most authors, I'm happier writing than marketing.

What is the toughest criticism you've ever received?
My toughest criticism was probably also my best compliment. A creating writing tutor told me she hated a scene I'd written because it read like something out of a Stephen King novel. As Mr King is one of the world's highest selling authors, I can take that!

What scene in The Perfect Neighbours did you enjoy writing the most? Which one was the hardest?
The story is a slow burn that leads to a big boom in the middle, so the hardest part for me was the first few chapters. I had to set the scene and show intrigue without revealing too much information. That's why I'm so grateful to my agent Marilia Savvides and my HarperCollins editor Finn Cotton. They were good at telling me where to cut, cut, cut.

I can't tell you my favourite scene without giving the plot away. All I can say is, it is Finn Cotton's favourite too.

What do you read?
Not surprisingly, I read crime novels - psychological thrillers and detective stories. Authors I've enjoyed this year include: Cass Green, Fiona Barton, G.J. Minett, Cath Staincliffe, Thomas Mogford and Tim Weaver.

I also like novels about other cultures. Recently by authors Chibundu Onuzo and Kei Miller.

And I read teen and children's books for work. There are three terrific but harrowing books aimed at older teens that I'd recommend to adults too: Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman and Between Shades of Gray and Salt to the Sea, both by Ruta Sepetys.

What was your favourite book as a child?
I loathed reading until I was eleven when I discovered Judith M. Beresford's novels about Jackie and her pony. I read several in the series. This led me to a book by Caroline Silver that described the time she spent looking after an abandoned horse. It was called Summer with Tommy. I loved that book.

What tips would you give an aspiring author?
  • Write, write and keep writing.
  • Get feedback from people you trust.
  • Edit.
  • Write some more.
  • And read, read, read.

Extract from The Perfect Neighbours by Rachel Sargeant
Sunday, 2nd May

Mel's heart raced when the Barton couple at number 1 stepped out of their front door with their pack of yapping spaniels. But they turned left onto the main street, the dogs pulling against their leads to sniff the grass verge. Mel sighed with relief and knelt by Chris's car to continue cleaning the tyres.

"Guten tag," a voice said, hard and guttural.

The young man was gaunt, scruffy-looking. He must have come from the copse that ran between their cul-de-sac and the one behind. She'd seen him once before, hanging around the edge of the wood, and she'd stayed indoors until he'd walked off. Now he squatted beside her and said something in German.

She didn't know what he said, but she could smell him, taste him, tobacco. She leapt to her feet and felt her skin draw bone-white. Black dots floated in front of her eyes.

He stood up and put his hand in his jacket. She flinched. He pulled out a packet of cigarettes, opened it and offered her one. She stepped further away, her eyes darting between the man and the packet. She wished Chris was here; he'd know what to do.

The man shrugged, lit a cigarette for himself and pocketed the pack.

What now? She was working a cotton bud between her fingers. Her fists were tensed in front of her although she knew she'd be no match if he got nasty.

He pointed at the cotton bud. "You British won't get your wheels dirty."

A deep heat rose up her throat and she felt dizzy. Hearing him speak English made him more threatening.

He ran his fingernails over the bonnet, not quite hard enough to leave a scratch. "Expensive car," he said. "You like driving it?"

He stared at her. The cold intensity of his eyes pushed her into answering. "It's my husband's car."

But she wished she hadn't; her response only made him ask something else. "Where does he drive you?" He drummed his fingers on the bonnet and turned them into a fist when she didn't answer. "To the Rhineland?"

She watched his fist and shook her head.

"Or the Mosel or the Sauerland? Or the Black Forest or the Ahr Valley?" He fired off the place names like bullets.

She carried on shaking her head. When would this end?

"You must go somewhere."

"I..." she faltered.

His eyes narrowed and he snarled: "Or is only England good enough?"

She flushed crimson, panic rising. The man looked unstable; she'd have to say something. How was she going to get away? She couldn't run into the house; he'd see where she lived. Maybe if she'd accepted the cigarette, he'd have stalked back to the copse and left her alone. Her refusal had made him angry.

"We go to Austria, to the Grossglockner, in spring. The Whitsun holidays." She held her breath. Why had she said all that?

His eyes pierced her, made her shake. It was better when he spoke. Why was he silent?

"The neighbours. We go with the neighbours," she blurted out.

A dog barked up the street, the couple returning with the spaniels. The man darted into the trees and disappeared.

Review of The Perfect Neighbours by Rachel Sargeant
When I discovered the email from Rachel Sargeant inviting me to take part in the blog tour for The Perfect Neighbours, I replied instantly, because the book sounded excellent. Neighbours can play such a fascinating role in fiction, can they not? After all, how well do you truly know the people you live next door to, or across the street from? The possibilities are endless, and so I couldn't wait to see what Sargeant had in store for me as the reader. The cover for this one had my mind conjuring up all sorts of dark and chilling possibilities. I couldn't wait to get started.

In Sargeant's The Perfect Neighbours, readers are introduced to Helen. The novel itself is split into three parts, allowing the reader a thorough look into the past, as well as the gritty lead-up to the present day. Sargeant opens the novel in the most intriguing of ways, in which the reader becomes aware of Helen's rather interesting predicament. She is being detained in a prison cell, and her lawyer has just arrived, keen to figure out what has happened, and how Helen is involved. Following on from this, Sargeant takes the reader back, 8 months previous to be precise, to when Helen is arriving in Germany for the first time alongside husband Gary, to begin their new and exciting life together. It really is delicious, knowing that something huge awaits in the novel later on, something so huge that Helen ends up in a cell and needs to answer some pretty serious questions.

I'd definitely label this novel as a "slow-burner". I personally enjoy it when the author holds back, revealing only what they want the reader to know at any given time. Sergeant's style is scissor-sharp and to-the-point, punchy and powerful, delivering her words in a precise and effective manner. I found myself fascinated by Helen's new surroundings. New people. New circumstances. It was interesting observing Helen as she acclimatised to her new situation, and I was just as curious as she when it came to the people she now shared a street with. Chapter by chapter, I felt the novel grow darker and couldn't ignore the sense of foreboding that continued to grow stronger as the book progressed. I couldn't help but to wonder what secrets the characters surrounding Helen had to hide, if any. This urge to discover the truth spurred me on throughout the novel, enticing me to devour chapter after chapter.

The Perfect Neighbours by Rachel Sargeant was a chilling and cryptic novel, proving just how difficult it is to truly know someone, inside out. With secrets aplenty, and twists peppered throughout, this story kept me on my toes and constantly on-edge, waiting for someone to make a wrong move. With so many characters to observe, each of them not what they first appear to be, I found this novel thoroughly engaging and couldn't wait for the truth to finally be revealed. Pretty Little Books is awarding The Perfect Neighbours by Rachel Sargeant with four stars today. With thanks to the author and HarperCollins for providing a review copy.

You can find Rachel Sargeant on Facebook | Twitter | rachelsargeant.co.uk
You can purchase your copy of The Perfect Neighbours by Rachel Sargeant on Amazon.

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