By Beth Kephart
Available August 24th from Egmont USA and Laura Geringer Books
Read my review of UNDERCOVER and my interview with Beth, or read her interview with me
With every book, my respect for Beth Kephart grows. In fact, she's one of those authors that I enjoy so much I have to find the perfect time and place to read her books so that I can finish comfortably and uninterrupted. For NOTHING BUT GHOSTS, this was two locations: my dorm window seat overlooking Oxford High Street and the Oxford Botanical Gardens. For DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS, I tucked into my childhood bed (no longer in my childhood home) and closed the door to keep my desperate-for-affection dog out of the way.
In DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS, Kephart makes bold stylistic choices. It's told in close third person present. The present is a rough tense, especially when the book moves back and forth in time. The key lies in Kephart's skill. I used the words "bold" and "rough," but those don't suit DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS at all. DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS is fluid and seductive. Kephart plunges right into the action, moving between Katherine's actions during a few days at the Centennial Exhibition and her past with her dead twin Anna at will. It's slightly disorienting but absorbing. Kephart never once underestimates her audience.
In the end, DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS is a short novel. But I didn't feel cheated. I just felt like my time hadn't been wasted on useless scenes or extra words. DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS feels tight. Since the reader delves into Katherine's life for a brief period only, there are open ends. But the important parts - the emotions - those climax.
Historical fiction is not usually my thing, but Kephart pulled me into the world of 1876 Philadelphia. I sympathized with Katherine and Anna the same as I did with the characters of UNDERCOVER despite being so removed from their place. Much of Katherine's inner conflict stems from her feelings about Bennett, who had been Anna's secret lover.
Once upon a time, my sister had a boyfriend she kept secret from our parents. Like Katherine, I knew. Like Katherine, I kept her secret, because however I felt about it, I trusted my sister. Unlike Katherine, my sister is still alive, but that doesn't mean it ended well. I felt betrayed. No one can betray like a sister.
That's the force of Kephart's writing. It is what the stylized prose builds to. Her technical proficiency isn't empty, but a vehicle to deliver emotional truths. Her words have a resonance.
But DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS isn't some stuffy literary work. Kephart doesn't forget the importance of entertainment. There are love stories, new friends, and - of course - danger.