The Stranger Inside
By Laura Benedict
Mulholland Books; hardcover; $27.00; available today, February 5
What would you do if you came home to find a stranger living inside your house? That’s the question that Laura Benedict, an Edgar- and Thriller Award-nominated author, asks in her psychological drama The Stranger Inside.
You’ve just come back from a long weekend, and all you want to do is collapse on the sofa.
You put your key in the lock.
There’s a bike on the porch that isn’t yours.
The door won’t open.
The house should be empty.
But someone else is here.
There’s a stranger living in Kimber Hannon’s house, and he knows something about her.
“I was there. I saw what you did,” he tells her.
These words reveal a connection to Kimber’s distant past, and dark secrets she’d long ago left buried. This trespasser isn’t after anything as simple as her money or her charming Craftsman bungalow. He wants to move into her carefully orchestrated life–and destroy it.
He tells the police that he has every right to be there, and he has the paperwork to prove it. But Kimber definitely didn’t invite this man to move in. He tells her that he knows something about her, and he wants everyone else to know it too.
Benedict writes of Kimber meeting the police at the house, “Officer Maby is perhaps thirty, definitely seven or eight years younger than Kimber, the age of someone she might have babysat when she was a teenager. Her short-sleeved uniform shirt, buttoned securely at the neck, is snug around her apple torso, and her pants have military creases. Not a single strand of chestnut hair is loosed from her low bun, and her large eyes and sensuous, full lips are devoid of makeup. Her voice is smooth and controlled and confident, and Kimber silently realizes that Officer Maby has both a voice and face for radio.
“Out of patience, Kimber jumps in right away. ‘This is my house.’ She points at the bungalow with its single burning light. ‘I called because there’s somebody inside. The locks were changed sometime between Thursday afternoon and today. I want whoever is in there to get out.’
“‘Ms. Hannon, when did you first try to get into the house?’
“‘Um, around eight o’clock. Does it matter?’
“‘You say the locks have been changed? What happened when you went to the door?’
“Kimber brisltes. ‘Nothing happened. The key didn’t fit. And someone is turning lights on and off. Look.’ She points to the second-story window overlooking the driveway. ‘I saw a man’s – you know – shadow, up there.’
“One of Officer Maby’s overplucked eyebrows lifts. ‘Did you invite anyone to stay at your house? Or is the house in foreclosure?’
“‘No, it’s not in foreclosure, and I didn’t invite anyone to stay! Why would I do that and then call you?’ Agitation makes her voice louder. ‘I was out of town. nobody has a key except my mother, and it’s not her. I talked to her earlier today.’
“‘Well, I know who it is. And you do too, Kimber. What is all this fuss about? Why did you call the police on that nice man?’
“Kimber turns around to stare. Her neighbor, Jenny Tuttle, stands in strobing red and blue cruiser lights, her red wig and her candy-apple-red glasses both slightly askew. The jacket of her velour tracksuit sags on her wilted body, and the slightest of breezes carries the odor of cigarette smoke from her clothes to Kimber. The little dog sits at her feet. Now, they both look defiant.
“‘Ma’am?’ The officer speaks before Kimber can respond. ‘What’s your name please?’
“‘I’m Jenny. Jennifer Tuttle. I live next door.’
“Kimber finds her voice. ‘What are you talking about?’ She has a love-hate relationship with the woman she’s lived next door to for the last year. Jenny is the neighborhood busybody and knows all th gossip, though she rarely leaves her house except to walk the dog. But she is also kind, occasionally gifting Kimber with half a casserole or tomatoes from her garden. Her dog is a sweet, lively thing. Now Kimber is wondering if Jenny has finally lost her mind. She only admits to being sixty-eight years old yet looks eighty, or older.
“Jenny stands a bit taller. ‘I saw you hand him a set of keys, and you helped him carry his bags in before he drove you away again. He’s here for six months! Have you had some kind of accident, dear? Like amnesia, on the soaps?’
“A breathy sound from the officer draws Kimber’s attention. ‘I don’t know what she’s talking about. I didn’t rent my house to anybody. Why would I do that?’ Where the officer’s mild face was serious and business-like a moment earlier, now there’s a glint of skepticism in her eyes. She looks from Jenny to Kimber. ‘That’s crazy. Why would I do that?’ Kimber repeats. Now she really does feel as if, like Alice, she’s on the other side of the looking glass.”
The Stranger Inside is one of the best thrillers you will read, and will keep you guessing as the mystery of who the man in this house is unfolds.