Connecticut librarian Betsy Treading, the heroine of Cammie McGovern’s Neighborhood Watch, spends 12 years in prison for a murder she thought she committed while sleepwalking—but didn’t.
What inspired the somnambulist twist?
I was most interested in the idea of a chronic sleepwalker moving through her suburban neighborhood at night, enacting the emotional dramas that had only been hinted at during the day.
Why do secrets play a part in Betsy’s search for justice?
Any secrets that people take pains to hide can be explosive and therefore dangerous. In this story, the community is on high alert for no other reason than that a charismatic, bohemian woman moves onto the block who’s a truth-teller, and they’ve all got secrets to hide. Sometimes I think this idea might spring from my having a child with autism. During his early years, I used to panic about telling people the truth about how delayed he was. I thought I was protecting him, perhaps, or that it would be an unpleasant burden to lay on people I didn’t know well. I do think there’s a host of seemingly fine reasons to keep secrets, until you realize it’s the pretense that’s the burden.
What’s the worst aspect of a neighborhood watch group?
Any effort to watch for “criminal activity” will, sooner or later, mean categorizing what types of people and behavior everyone is meant to be on guard against. In my relatively small town in Massachusetts, two house burglaries in the same neighborhood recently spawned the creation of a neighborhood watch group that seemed to be almost entirely focused on the apartment residents across the way. In this case, it was slightly higher-income families turning a steely eye on slightly lower-income families. I believe that self-empowering measures to protect oneself are important, but I worry about the ways they can become divisive.
What’s the best?
I remember a speech Michelle Obama gave during the campaign where she said real change depends not upon a president but on all of us working locally: opening our doors to our neighbors, reaching out and working to better our schools and community services. Neighborhoods can so often be about the friendly distance we keep from each other. So the good part of a neighborhood watch group would be the idea of opening our doors and inviting each other into our lives.
Another mystery with an old murder at the center, but this one will be more gothic in feel, with an old family estate and lots of secrets hidden around a house that’s falling apart. I’ve been reading and loving Sarah Waters, Kate Morton, and Diane Setterfield.