Thursday, July 20, 2017

The People Next Door

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: When I was…oh, I guess sixteen, I was out on a sort-of “date.” Those  were few and far between and I remember nothing about it except: When I called at 10 to see if I could stay out later, my mother said: “Come home right now, the barn is on fire.”
When we arrived, there was a conflagration, and firefighters everywhere, and the ladies auxiliary had set up a picnic table in our front yard with hot dogs and lemonade. Weird, huh?
Anyway, turned out, we began to hear, the kid next door, a very strange 10 year old, had set the fire. The family soon left town.  
Yeesh.
These days--I realize—I know who lives right next door to us on both sides. And they are not pre-adolescent arsonists.  But the next houses? NO idea.
The wonderful Nancy Cole Silverman has her own “house next door” story.

Family Secrets and Urban Legends
When I was a little girl, my family and I used to visit my grandmother’s home in Seattle. She had lived there since she had been a young bride and had many stories to tell about the neighborhood and times past.  
One of the more curious tales concerned a mysterious house next door, a turn of the century Craftsman with a large front porch and a view of Puget Sound.  Gramma said the house had once been the prettiest on the block with hanging fuchsias and Boston ferns, but that the lady who lived inside, hadn’t been seen in years.
Rumor was there had been a murder in the house. Some suspected the woman had killed her husband, other suspected something far more sinister.  
Whatever it was, my grandmother didn’t tell me. Only that it was something, a young girl didn’t need to worry herself about.  Grandma was like that.  If you didn’t have something nice to say, she didn’t say it.  

All I knew for certain was that the cops had come, the cops had left, and nobody – particularly the women in the neighborhood – were talking about it.  It was my first experience hearing about an unsolved crime and a recluse, and I was determined to see if I might spot her. 
I don’t know what I expected, probably something very Hitchcockian. Maybe a little, old gray-haired lady, dressed in black mourning clothes and carrying around a candle while peering out laced-draped windows.  Despite my staying up way past my bedtime and sitting by the guest bedroom window and straining my young eyes to see if I might catch a glimpse of her, I never did.  But my memory of my nighttime posts, and later some of the urban legends about reclusive old ladies and serial killers was seared in my mind. For years when I’d visit my grandmother, I couldn’t help but flash back to the memory of the strange house next door and wonder about its occupant. 
But time and distance faded those memories, and I hadn’t thought of that incident again until I started research for Room For Doubt, book four of the Carol Childs Mysteries.  About that time, there were a couple of stories  in the paper; one about a group of bad cops on the take and another where two sweet looking little old ladies had been accused of multiple murders. The story was slugged, Black Widow Murders: Two elderly women found guilty of conspiring to kill homeless men.




The story reminded me of Joseph Kesselring’s Arsenic and Old Lace

Kesselring based his light-hearted mystery on the serial killings of Amy Archer-Gilligan, who was believed to have killed between 20 and 100 people, including several of her husbands.  Kesselring turned what was a horrendous news story into a popular piece of light-hearted fiction. 
The story triggered memories of the mysterious house next to my grandmother and its even more mysterious occupant.  Why hadn’t anyone followed up on the idea that she might have been a serial killer, and why hadn’t the police arrested her or at least conducted a more thorough investigation?  I couldn’t help but wonder, was there a reason why nobody dared speak of whatever happened inside that house?
Imagination, it’s a wonderful thing.  It got me researching all kinds of urban legends.  One of which was the basis for my new book Room For Doubt. 
How about you? Any childhood memories or urban legends influence the theme of your work?
HANK: And let me ask you this, Reds and readers—do you know who lives next door?

Yes, showing it again, why not? xx Hank
When radio reporter Carol Childs is called to a crime scene in the Hollywood Hills at five thirty in the morning, she’s convinced it must be a publicity stunt to promote a new movie. That is, until she sees the body hanging from the center of the Hollywood sign. The police are quick to rule it a suicide, but something doesn’t add up for Carol. Particularly after a mysterious caller named Mustang Sally confesses to the murder on the air and threatens to kill again.


With the help of an incorrigible PI, her best friend, and a kooky psychic, Carol is drawn into the world of contract killers and women scorned. As she races to find the real killer, she finds herself faced with a decision that will challenge everything she thought she knew.

  • Nancy Cole Silverman enjoyed a long and very successful career in radio before turning to print journalism and later, to fiction.
    As a graduate of Arizona State University with a degree in Mass Communications, Nancy was one of the first female on-air television reporters in her hometown of Phoenix. After moving to Los Angeles in the late 1970’s she turned to the business side of broadcasting, becoming one of the top advertising sales executives in the market. After stints at KNX, KFWB, KABC and KXTA radio, she was appointed General Manager at KMPC, making her one of only two female managers in America’s second-largest radio market.
    But in her heart of hearts, Nancy thought first of herself as a writer. In 2001 she left the radio business to found and edit The Equestrian News, a monthly publication for equine enthusiasts. “That’s when I really began to write,” said Silverman, “toggling between writing articles for the News and fiction I’d been thinking about for years.”
    Today Nancy is a full-time author. Her new series, The Carol Childs Mysteries, with Henery Press, is available in bookstores and online.

75 comments:

  1. Goodness, Nancy, what an amazing story.
    “Room for Doubt” sounds quite intriguing and I’m looking forward to finding out how Carol solves the mystery.

    Since we are literally surrounded by a forest of pine trees, next door isn’t exactly next door . . . it’s more like down the road a piece. But, yes, Hank, we do know who lives there.

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    1. Oh, somehow that's not where I pictured you living at all, Joan! Somehow I pictured you as very urban-- or at least in a place with lots of people. My whole vision of you just changed!

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    2. Surrounded by forest! As I sit here in L.A. with the temps soaring into triple digits that sounds so cool. Just watch out for the bears and other furry creatures that go hunting at night. Enjoy the read.

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    3. I used to live out in the woods like that, Joan. Of course I knew all my neighbors. We depended on each other in many ways.

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    4. Well, Hank, we used to live in Los Angeles, and I suppose that qualifies as urban.

      Despite the trees, it still gets quite hot here, Nancy, though we’re a couple of degrees shy of three digit temperatures today. While deer are regular visitors, the wandering turkeys are annoying and we are forever rescuing the turtles from the basement window wells. Thankfully, the bears have claimed the northern part of the state for their homes and all the other furry little critters just wander on through . . . .

      No matter where you call home, Gigi, it’s a good feeling to know you can count on your neighbors . . . .

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  2. So many mysterious houses, so little time. ;^) There's a house a couple of blocks away that is in terrible repair - vines growing over the outside, windows broken or blocked of, patched with mismatched wood. I assumed it was abandoned until one day an older man came out carrying a lunch box. He stood on the street like he was waiting for his ride to work. Who or what else is hidden in there, this curious mind wanted to know!

    Yep, know all the neighbors - next door, across the street, over the back fence. Most of them I don't know well enough to have been inside their houses though...

    Best of luck with the new book, Nancy!

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    1. Exactly! The people on our right our dear friends, so that's lovely. But the people on the left? I just wave when they walk their dog.

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    2. Thank you, Edith. The house you describe sounds a lot like the one next door to my grandmother. It's amazing how the mind recalls those other than ordinary houses.

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  3. Hank,

    Yes I know who lives next door to me.

    To my right are people who have lived in the neighborhood as long as my family has. To my left is a house that has had a number of families, the current one having a son that I coached in basketball. Across the street is another house that has had multiple people in it, but the one there now has been there for a while. The ones diagonally across on my right have been on the street longer than I have been.

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  4. Welcome Nancy, and your new book sounds fascinating. We have a derelict house in our neighborhood, owned by a old lady whom we avoid, seriously. Because she is, uh, how do I put it, bat-shit crazy?

    On the other hand, we watch out for her, occasionally talk her into letting the neighborhood lawn mowing guy tidy up the front garden. We lovingly call her Miss Haversham. I'm very glad I don't live right next door.

    Our neighbors who do live next door are fabulous, and I pretty much know everyone on our street and the next street north, names at least if not stop-for-coffee friends. My neighbor to the west has lived here for 45 years, so she is a fund of information on everyone who has ever lived here, often describing a home as "the Kearney hours, you know, they were a good Catholic family and had all those kids." This is only mildly confusing as the Kearneys pulled up stakes 30 odd years ago. We are also within walking distance of seven of the eight synagogues in Rochester. It is a wonderful sight to see whole families walking to shul on Friday and Saturday, warms my heart.

    I have a new neighbor to the east, replacing the Wonderful Kevin who did everything handy for everyone. She is a dear, and last night around nine she called me, needed to come over for bandaging as she had fallen off a stone wall and cut herself up. I love being the neighborhood nurse, and yes, I have steri-strips and sterile dressings.

    Across the street live two more nurses plus one behind us. However I am the one who gets called, probably because I am older than dirt and readily available while the rest have day jobs! It is very rewarding, being able to be a first responder for neighborhood cuts and bruises.

    My best memory is a couple of years ago when Judy-Next-Door called into my second story bedroom window at 4 A.M. "Ann Ann are you awake?" (By then I was.) She said her husband didn't look good. I grabbed a handful of aspirin and my undies and hobbled across the driveway, took one look at Andy-Next-Door, and called 911. He was having a coronary. And within 90 minutes he was on the table in the cardiac cath lab having a life-saving procedure. Stacy RN across the street was on duty in the lab that morning, and I texted her to expect Andy. We really do take care of each other.

    City living and open windows have distinct advantages.

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    1. Oh, my goodness, you are fabulous! What a story--that is heart-warming and wonderful. And Judy-Next- Door was so smart to wake you. The neighborhood nurse? Cozy writers, listen up!

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    2. My daughter is the resident nurse in their little Michigan neighborhood, too. Although they have a doctor or two there, as well.

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    3. I agree with Hank, neighborhood nurse? There a story there.

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    4. If any of you use me in a story, I prefer to be a serial killer, just so you know

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    5. Ann, I'd love to have you next door, too! Although my hub is pretty good with bandaging and emergencies.

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    6. Ann, I love that your neighbor could just call through the window to you. What a great neighborhood!

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    7. Ann, I dont comment on this blog very often but I do read it each day. I always looks for your thoughtful and humorous comments. The stories you tell are insightful and entertaining. You are an excellent story teller and writer, please put some of your experiences in a non-fiction book of short tales.
      Sue the Attorney from the South Bay, in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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    8. Susan, oh my. Thank you for the compliment.

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    9. Ann, I dont comment on this blog very often but I do read it each day. I always looks for your thoughtful and humorous comments. The stories you tell are insightful and entertaining. You are an excellent story teller and writer, please put some of your experiences in a non-fiction book of short tales.
      Sue the Attorney from the South Bay, in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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  5. We all need YOU to move next door, Ann!

    Nancy, the new book sounds wonderful. And yes, I've been inspired, too, by childhood memories... in just about every book. We lived around the corner from Lana Turner when her daughter killed Johnny Stompanato...which inspired NIGHT NIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT. And my very strange neighbor inspired THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN. Then the research only enriches it, right?

    Now we have great neighbors. We all keep our distance day to day, but when you need help we're there for each other.

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    1. Hallie, it was so great to meet you in Los Angeles at the California Crime Writer's Conference. You were such a kind, inspirational speaker. I'm still thinking about some of the things you shared. Just finished, NIGHT NIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT. Loved it!

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  6. We live in a great neighborhood in a small town and know all the neighbors. We are so lucky to be here and want to stay here forever.

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    1. Aw, that's so lovely. Exactly how it should be!

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  7. I've learned a lot of neighborhood history from my sweet neighbor to the north. I'm in the middle of a row of three houses built in the late 1950s-early 1960s. The house to the south and mine were built by twin sisters, both now deceased, and lovely Marilyn, now in her 80s, knew both sisters, but was particularly close friends with Lois, the lady who built my house. The neighbors to the south have only been there since March, so I don't know them very well, although I know their two Yorkies, Greta and Mabel, are known to my dog, Zoe, as the Four Pound Yorkies of Death. We're sorting out some boundary issues. The neighbor across the street, Richard, has a lovely garden, and brought me some tomatoes once, but we don't know each other well, yet. I think the key is getting out, walking dogs, working in the yard, and being available to meet people. My house, as was typical of the 1960s, is sort of turned inward: tiny front porch, but huge back yard and patio; small front windows, but big window wall in the back. It takes a conscious choice to get out there and meet folks.

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    1. Yes, isn't that interesting! What a great observation. And I think dogs have led to many new friendships!
      And hmm..BOUNDARY ISSUES is such a great title...

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    2. Dogs and babies are the universal introductory agents. And tomatoes. Zucchini, not so much

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    3. I would take zucchini just so I could make Hallie's Zucchini Shrimp Pancakes. I seem to have killed my zucchini plant. I thought that was impossible. My eggplant, however, is going to take over the world...

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    4. One year the zucchinis got completely out of hand, and I started giving them away to my friends as wedding/fertility gifts.

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    5. I used to grow zucchini, mostly just to see the nieghbors pretndvto be away when I came up the walk with a grocery bag full

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  8. No weird neighbors growing up. We knew almost everyone on our street.

    Now? I know my immediate neighbors. No clue who lives on the other side of them. One we used to, but the father died and the son has moved out and sold the house. The Hubby went and met the new owners and reports a nice older couple and their 20-something daughter who is studying veterinary medicine. We also used to know two houses away on the other side, but the guy lost the house after his wife died. There have been a series of renters, but I assume they are okay except they don't mow their very back piece of yard (The Boy earned money mowing it for them earlier this month).

    Come to think of it, I used to know more people and they've either died or moved away. Kind of weird.

    Mary/Liz

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    1. Yeah, that is disconcerting. You knew the world one way, now it's another way. It's hard, though, isn't it ? To show up at the front door? Have you seen that ad for-an insurance or credit card company, I think. About don't you wish people would say what they really mean? A woman shows up with a casserole at a new neighbor's door, and says something like: Here, I brought you a casserole to see if you're weird.

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    2. Oh Hank, now I know just what to say to new neighbors when I take them 26 zucchinis

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    3. Hank, I've seen that commercial! I think it's for Capital One. It's hilarious. I could never just walk up to someone's door, but The Hubby is much more extroverted than I am so he has no problem (plus he wanted to see the inside of the house). I'm much more likely to meet someone at a get-together. We get together frequently for cook-outs with our immediate neighbors for summer holidays (if we're all at home, that is).

      Years later, no one can tell me what happened to the woman who lived three doors down. She was the grandmother of one of The Girl's childhood friends. She just...vanished. The house is still empty.

      Mary/Liz

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  9. We live on a fairly major road right now, so our neighborhood is not as cozy as the one my kids grew up in, or the one I grew up in. That being said, there was a house around the corner growing up that was gothic in style and derelict. It was probably nothing more than the owner being too old to keep up with it, but every kid in town was convinced it was haunted. It was a thrill just to walk by it on Halloween, and we used to dare each other to go trick or treating there. (I'm not sure if anyone every tried it.) I'm pretty sure, though, that my mother, in an futile attempt to convince us it wasn't haunted, said the person who lived there was the first female state reps in MA, but I may have that wrong. We moved to the Cape when I was 12 and had lovely (albeit mostly elderly) neighbors. I visited my hometown recently and someone had bought the "haunted house" and fixed it up. It looked pretty nice. A little disappointing, really!

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    1. Come on, it WAS haunted. The new owners are just futiley (wait, that doesn't look like a word: futile-y? What's the real word?)) trying to hide that fact.

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    2. EXACTLY MY THOUGHT! (OOPS CAPS LOCK)

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  10. Nancy, the idea behind a derelict house gives me the shivers! And don't you wonder what Amy Archer-Gilligan had that drew so many men to her, and their eventual deaths? She looks like such a, er, Jezebel, no?

    When my husband and I got married I moved into his house, 35 years ago. Between that house and his office property, which is just under a mile away on the same street, we know pretty much everyone, since he's lived in this neighborhood for over 40 years. When we moved, we bought a house partway between the old one and the office, and one house off that street, around the corner.

    Most of our neighbors have been here for decades, too, although at this point we're the second longest residents on either side. Because of our suburban situation, and the many trees around here, we rarely see anyone except by design. The people whose property is behind us, but on the other street, bought the house 25 years ago because as our FedEx driver he knew the house was for sale the day it went on the market. So we've known Gregg for probably 30 years. And an old friend of both of ours, from before we knew one another, bought a house down the street 25-30 years ago.

    Now our next-door neighbors are a young couple who moved there last fall, with a four-year old scrapper of a son and a brand-new little girl. And the house across the street, empty for the last few months, may have just been bought. So new blood.

    There used to be a house nearby, in the neighborhood next to ours, that was empty for years. Local lore said the owners had either inherited a potload, or won the lottery, and they got up from the table, walked away leaving everything they had, and never came back. Kids who broke in said there were dishes on the table, still with dessicated food, and vermin everywhere. It got to be an eyesore, and eventually I think it was torn down and rebuilt.

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    1. Wow. I LOVE that story. They simply--left? Supposedly? There's a whole book, including title, in the comments today.

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    2. I agree, what an interesting story. From time-to-time I've seen articles about those people who've won lotteries ~ but disappeared? How intriguing.

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    3. There's a once-lovely hacienda style house a few blocks away from me that is abandoned. It's right in the middle of a desirable neighborhood, and ought to be sold and restored if possible, but the rumor is that the guy who grew up there didn't want anything to do with it after his mother died, and has just let it sit empty all these years. Which makes me wonder about his mother.

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    4. Fascinated by that house! Used to walk by it every day and daydream about what it would be like to restore it. Now, I'm a bit old-house jaded...

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  11. We have cops who live in my neighborhood. The police department lets them take home patrol cars and park them in front of their houses. Consequently, we have one of the quietest neighborhoods in Anchorage. I like it.

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    1. We have a DEA agent two houses up the street. I'm convinced he is the neighborhood enforcer. It's nice to know that he's there but mostly we call on him when we need some muscle

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    2. Whoa, the nurse and the DEA agent. I am TELLING you, this is a book.

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  12. Welcome to JRW!

    Your grandmother's house in Seattle looks familiar. Was it in the Madison section of Seattle? A friend's grandmother had a house there and it was right across the water from Bill Gates' house.

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  13. I meant to say welcome to Nancy and congrats on your new book. It certainly sounds intriguing! I'll have to catch up on the other ones before I get to that one, though. Is it better to read them in order?

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    1. Oh, good question--is it better to read in order? xo

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  14. When I was growing up, we moved often. My mother always said she'd find all about the neighbors in short order, thanks to us kids. We'd go out, find the nearest kid our age to play with, and soon we'd know all about the street.

    The street we used to live on, just around the corner, is one third of a mile long. However, in addition to other children, there are a set of triplets and two sets of twins, all the same age. They didn't meet one another, though, until they all started waiting for the bus together, when they were in kindergarten!

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  15. No mysterious houses in my past. I know my neighbors, too, and the one isn't as mysterious as they think they are.

    But I'm intrigued by yours Nancy. I need to know what was really happening in that house.

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    1. While that mysterious house always intrigued me, it was idea of an old lady getting away with murder was the inspiration for ROOM FOR DOUBT. The house, as we say, didn't make the cut into the final pages, but the old lady...she's a scene stealer.

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  16. Nancy, welcome, and congrats on the new book. Now I am so curious about the your lady in the house in Seattle. I'm going to be making up all sorts of stories.

    We do know almost all our neighbors, and very nice they are, too. But one of our favorites, Mrs. Montgomery (who always told us to call her Faye, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it) lived to be 101--and yes, stayed in her house, although her daughter did move in the last year or so to help. Mrs. Montgomery knew everything that had happened in the neighborhood since she was a young woman, including remembering the family who had lived in our house for more than thirty years. She was fiercely independent, but when she needed help, she called us. She also watched out for us. The rocker where she sat everyday had a view straight across the street to the front of our house, so she always let us know when there was any suspicious activity. NOT appreciated by our daughter when she was a teenager, I can tell you!!!

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  17. This. Looks. Great. The title....brrr! The cover art. Wow.

    And your tale of keeping vigil at night....dynamite.

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    1. Yup, Henery covers are unique. They really have a look!

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  18. I know all my near neighbors -- it's one of the selling points of our little subdivision, actually.

    But we had a rather tragic event in the larger area a few years ago that relates to knowing one's neighbors. There was a derelict house that the high schoolers all thought of as haunted. One night a group of them -- good kids by all accounts, not intending mischief, just wanting to creep themselves out -- drove back and forth in front of it several times. The last time, the son of the old lady who owned it came running out with a shotgun and fired into the car! One of the girls was hit in the head. She survived, but went through years of rehabilitation to learn to walk again, among other things, and still has some loss of function on one side of her body and some memory loss. Her life was horribly changed in that instant. In the ensuing trial, the adult son said that over the years teenagers had sometimes vandalized his mother's property, and he just assumed these kids had evil intent as well. (Clearly, he had some serious mental health issues.)

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  19. So glad you're here, Nancy! I live in Seattle and also wondered where your grandmother lived. Given her view of the Sound, I'm guessing Magnolia or north of there?

    Growing up, there was one house in the neighborhood that was completely overgrown and falling apart. We kids always assumed it was deserted, but learned from our parents that a man did live there, a professor at MIT, in fact! Clearly, home improvement was not a priority for him.

    We don't know our neighbors on our floor, but we have good friends on floors 17, 28, and 31. That's practically next door!

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    1. Practically! It's an interesting dynamic in an apartment building--but I guess you see people in elevators?

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    2. We do, and there are monthly "dine out" nights, where the building mgmt. arranges with a local restaurant for residents to eat there together. It's how we've met our friends on other floors. That sounds like a book title!

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    3. OOOH. Our friends on other floors.Love it!

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    4. Or maybe just:: friends on other floors. Or just: on other floors. Or just :other floors. Ooh. All different books!

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  20. I know my close-by neighbors, and watched their houses being built. Of course, we readers of mysteries still have to wonder . . . how well do we REALLY know them? Ingrid's building's social nights remind me of Kerry Greenwood's Corinna Chapman books, everyone socializing and looking out for each other. Off to look for ROOM FOR DOUBT. <3

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    1. And I'm going to write the serial killer nurse who gets caught by the neighborhood DEA agent--after he wins the lottery. Or--the lottery winner who disappears and the nurse and the DEA agent track her down...is she really still somehwere in the weird house? Or! The weird house was a DEA safe house, and the witness protection person living there, masquerading as a nurse, breaks all the rules and buys l lottery ticket, then she has to disappear again. Or...

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    2. I'm available for interviews any time, my famous investigative reporter friend. Xox

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  21. What a fantastic premise for a mystery. One of my fave shows is Fear Thy Neighbor on the ID channel. I do know my neighbors and most of the people on my street, mostly, because I walk our dogs every day and you get to know people when your dog relieves itself in their front yard and you have the lovely job of clean-up. Every day.

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