Rating: 4.5 stars
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His brother killed himself, his girlfriend left him, and his agoraphobia imprisons him in his New York City apartment. Trapped in a stalemate of his own making, he lives his life watching others through the window. His name is not spoken. He is a man waiting for, looking for, yearning for, the Next.
A failed New York City songwriter, he does not think twice when new neighbor, Ruben, moves into the apartment above him, replacing former neighbor, Nathan. This is New York, after all. When Nathan’s body turns up in the Hudson river, the disappearance becomes murder. The arrival of gorgeous, confident police detective Marzoli at his doorstep for questioning sends his over-active imagination into overdrive and he begins to take the casual observation of those in the units around him to a whole new level.
Trapped in his apartment, he has time to scrutinize the neighboring units, where the veneer of normality is thin and, in some cases, completely worn away. When he witnesses a hot sexual encounter between closeted “Mr. Perfect” Layworth in the apartment across the courtyard, and new neighbor Ruben, his decades old denial of his desire for men begins to break down. The encounter is interrupted with Mrs. Layworth’s unexpected arrival home and subsequently, Ruben goes missing. He and Detective Marzoli team up to discover the truth, even if it means using Marzoli as bait. But confident, cocksure Marzoli has horrifying demons of his own, which threaten their off-the-books investigation. The risks are enormous; Marzoli’s life, job, and their budding relationship all hinge on what happens Next.
Events during his turbulent childhood have shaped the man he is today, from the death of his father, to his grandfather’s meticulously planned summer firearms “education,” he and his brother Paul were merely pawns used to further their mother and grandfather’s agendas, the effects of which have haunted them into adulthood. His ex-girlfriend, Johanna, only sees what is on the surface, not what is inside. To her, life is a fantasy and she dreams of being like “Mr and Mrs Perfect” Layworths across the courtyard. Johanna wants him to satisfy her selfish need for family and children, and shows herself to be cold and calculating, the perfect wannabe New York fashionista. Unable to live up to his girlfriend’s standards, she leaves him and his depression and agoraphobia shift into high gear. He is most certainly attracted to Marzoli and wonders if the feelings are mutual. Detective Marzoli is perceptive, empathetic, sexy, intense, and kind. Marzoli truly cares about doing a good job and giving the families of homicide victims closure. He places Marzoli on a pedestal, not realizing that Marzoli has horrors in his past that haunt him to this day.
The Next is written in first person POV, which explains why we never learn the main character’s name. Haze bravely stayed true to the narrative POV, which is unusual and in the end, impressive. The fact that the main character’s name is never spoken by any of the other characters without it seeming awkward is a testament to the excellent writing and flow of this emotionally charged story about a man with nothing to lose.
I am going to be honest, once I started The Next, I was not sure what to think of it. Twice I went back to try and locate the main character’s name before figuring out it had been left out intentionally. Fortunately, as I got into the story, I found it harder and harder to put my iPad down. His view of the world is dark and discordant, his lack of motivation is staggering, and he is incredibly critical of himself. He has a death wish, but is not even motivated enough to do anything about it. He shows himself to be clever, with a cutting wit, and he starts off with no sense of self- preservation. At all. Even though he has set himself on this path, he still feels pleasure, sadness, and disgust for those he watches, which demonstrates to us that he is not dead inside, yet. Disconnected from reality, yes, but not hopeless. Is it any wonder, after all of the things we discover he had gone through as a child and then with the suicide of his brother, the last link to his past that he kept locked up for years? His brother Paul’s death was the catalyst for his descent into depression and severe agoraphobia, as well as the resurgence of his memories. Marzoli is the life line that gets him out of his downward spiral. He thinks that Marzoli could have anyone and anything he wants, but this is not in fact the case. Marzoli is lonely, vulnerable, and surprisingly fragile.
In this sense, our MC has turned out to be the well-adjusted brother, if for no other reason than he is still alive. His gradual shift from cutting criticism to acceptance of other’s life choices was organic and showed that the path to recovery is indeed a slow one. Marzoli’s positive influence helped him to accept everyone for themselves, whether they be across the courtyard, or in his own apartment.
The story had excellent flow, with flashbacks that are interspersed throughout the story, usually brought on by a current event that triggers the memory, and the flip from past to present, memory to reality, are seamlessly built into the story. The writing was also clever and I liked Haze’s various pop culture references as well as great uses of similes and metaphors during the inner dialogue. Who among us has not surreptitiously peeked out a window to see what the neighbor is up to? The drive to voyeurism in the story is inevitable given the view from his apartment and he provides us with plenty of detail about the residents that surround him, including his opinion of their lives and choices. Our world view is strictly based on the MCs observations and since he does nothing but watch, his observations of body language and facial expressions are accurate, usually cruel, and sadly, (I won’t be a hypocrite here) easy to relate to.
O.K., now for the things that made me go “Hmmmm.” Marzoli having sex with Layworth, the man-whore, as a part of their unofficial investigation (without a condom, no less) completely took me off guard. Perhaps condoms and lube was assumed, but the sequence of events was so fast and furious that they would not have had time for lube, condoms, or even a bit of prep. Couple that with an off-the-books investigation involving a civilian, and you have two glaring gaps in Marzoli’s character that just did not mesh for me. The other thing that I noticed is that the secondary characters were very two dimensional, not that it detracted from the story, but was surprising considering the depth and complexity of the two main characters.
That being said, this was a cleverly written book where the two main characters truly seemed to “get” each other and the dynamic and attraction was nicely addressed. And, if I am honest, the last five chapters had me completely enthralled. There were several incredible revelations that pulled all of the threads together! I definitely recommend The Next if you like a bit of mystery, a mountain of angst, and a wonderful HEA.