The Stranger Upstairs: A Novel

Image of The Stranger Upstairs: A Novel
Release Date: 
September 26, 2023
Reviewed by: 

“Matlin has woven together a story of conflict, tension, action, and suspense on every page.”

The murder/suicide occurred over 40 years ago, but the Black Wood House remains unoccupied and terrifyingly alive.

The history of Black Wood House does not frighten its new owner, Sarah Slade, although her husband, Joe Cosgrove has other feelings. “’Oh, we’re not superstitious!’ Sarah laughs…’I see it as a business opportunity.’” Renovate and turn it around, that’s her plan—and yet even the best plans can go awry.

In her new novel, The Stranger Upstairs, Lisa M. Matlin lays out a story that is mad with tension and conflict. In doing so, she creates a main character in Sarah Slade who is not very likable, but perhaps she is not supposed to be.

Sarah is a therapist and bestselling author of a self-help book, Clear, Calm, and in Control. She has a following in the thousands who are each waiting for the next book to arrive on their doorsteps.

But as Sarah and Joe move into Black Wood House, it becomes apparent that all is not right with the marriage. Sarah knows it’s because of the secrets she and Joe carry, the biggest one being what she did to her sister, Lizzy. But “secrets” is a plural word, and the reader soon begins to learn that fake credentials and plagiarism take a close second to murder.

As handymen come into the house to begin the renovations, they soon learn that there is more to the old Victorian house than one sees from the outside, and renovations drag to a complete halt.

Sarah is considered an odd person by all of her coworkers except Emily, who recognizes that there are deep issues in Sarah’s heart, and yet as she tries to raise them to the surface, she finds that a difficult task.

As the house begins to develop a dark personality, at least in Sarah’s mind, Joe spends less time with her, Emily can’t break Sarah’s surface, and the two 40-year-old graves in the woods behind the house take on a life of their own. Sarah starts drinking, becomes rude to those around her, and pops pills.

Just as her life begins to tumble, a new character enters—Amanda. Sarah discovers that Amanda was the young woman who bought Black Wood before Sarah, and yet Amanda disappeared and has not been seen.

As Sarah searches for information on who Amada really was and what happened to her, she finds neighbors who refuse to speak to her, won’t share information, and one, in particular, Jeff Johnson, bullies and threatens her. When her cat, Reaper, is poisoned, she blames Johnson, but is he really the guilty party?  

As the search for Amanda continues, Sarah meets Darren Foster. Darren was Amanda’s lover, and he sheds light on who Amanda was, but is unable to help Sarah find Amanda. Another dead end.

As the story progresses, Matlin throws in a twist when she introduces several ABC Television news reports about more bodies found at the Black Wood yard. But who are they? Only two were supposed to be buried, and suddenly more people are found murdered. Matlin does this several times, tempting the reader to keep turning the page.

Soon Joe leaves Sarah alone in a house that continues to develop its foreboding personality. Sarah is diving further into her own murky past actions. Reaper draws her to the attic where the darkest of things are happening, until Sarah encounters her own dead sister in the attic.

Matlin takes the reader through a tangle of murder, mayhem, and chaos. People are not who they are expected to be, people die who are not expected to die, just when the reader knows what’s around the next corner, the corner leads to a dead end.

Matlin has woven together a story of conflict, tension, action, and suspense on every page. The reader will be surprised by the ending, perhaps not totally satisfied, but all the loose ends will be conveniently tied up as they should be.