Kia Abdullah’s latest thriller, Perfectly
Nice Neighbors (Putnam, 2023), published in the U.K. as Those People
Next Door (Harper Collins, 2023), takes the reader to a middle-class community
in London, where Salma and Bilal Khatun and their teen-aged son Zain have
moved to get away from a less desirable part of the city. From the beginning,
differences between them and their neighbors arise. Their neighbor objects to
the “Black Lives Matter” banner that Zain posts in the Khatun front yard. Salma
finds it on the ground a few times and then she sees the neighbor knock it
down. She confronts him and he is furious that she dared to challenge him.
Complaints about parking and cooking smells ensue. Salma’s car is damaged. All
the while, the unofficial community president and busybody keeps advising Salma
that the neighborhood is nice and that she should try to fit in.
Zain records one of the
confrontations between the neighbor and his mother, and he posts it to Twitter.
The image of the large white man looming over the smaller brown woman goes
viral, and the neighbor loses his job. Tension skyrockets, between the
neighbors and between Salma and Bilal, who wants his wife to back down and
ignore the abuse. He’s worried about money, having lost his restaurant during
the pandemic shutdown; the family is barely making ends meet. They cannot
afford to move again. Salma thinks that the meanness has to be faced or it will
The outcome of the animosity is
completely unexpected and changes both families forever.
Abdullah describes the attempts of
second- and third-generation immigrants in England to create a home and to go
about their business while being viewed askance by those whose families have
been in the country much longer. It makes for painful reading. Racism and
intolerance appear in the most unlikely places; Abdullah makes it her mission
to display the uncompromising reality.
The role of social media in
polarizing contemporary society does not escape her eagle eye. The speed that
word spread about the conflict via Twitter drew the line between the two
families more deeply and left little room for easy resolution of their
Abdullah is one of those contemporary thriller writers who tells a good story while highlighting serious social issues. It isn’t hard to see parallels between the experience of immigrants in the U.K. and here in the U.S. Her books are not easy to read but they always give me a lot to think about. Recommended.
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons (September
Paperback: 352 pages
Aubrey Nye Hamilton ©2023
Aubrey Hamilton is a former librarian who works on Federal It projects by day and reads mysteries at night.