REVIEW: The New Couple in 5B by Lisa Unger

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Dear Ms. Unger:

I requested this from Netgalley and then sort of sat on it for a bit; what I remembered of the blurb hadn’t really resonated. Said blurb:

Rosie and Chad Lowan are barely making ends meet in New York City when they receive life-changing news: Chad’s late uncle has left them his luxury apartment at the historic Windermere in glamorous Murray Hill. With its prewar elegance and impeccably uniformed doorman, the building is the epitome of old New York charm. One would almost never suspect the dark history lurking behind its perfectly maintained facade.

At first, the building and its eclectic tenants couldn’t feel more welcoming. But as the Lowans settle into their new home, Rosie starts to suspect that there’s more to the Windermere than meets the eye. Why is the doorman ever-present? Why are there cameras everywhere? And why have so many gruesome crimes occurred there throughout the years? When one of the neighbors turns up dead, Rosie must get to the truth about the Windermere before she, too, falls under its dangerous spell.

When I did get around to starting the book, I was quickly drawn in. Rosie is a sympathetic and relatable narrator, and the story moves along at a brisk pace. Rosie is an author who is pitching her next book, which happens to be about the history of the Windemere, the evocative and storied apartment building that she became familiar with while nursing her husband’s uncle Ivan through his final illness. As the story opens she’s having lunch with her friend and agent Max to discuss the project. Their lunch is interrupted by a tragedy on the sidewalk outside – a bicyclist is hit and killed by a car, dying right in front of the window Rosie and Max are sitting by. The unsettling incident isn’t connected to subsequent events, but nevertheless casts a macabre pall over the story. (It’s not the last time Rosie will encounter a dead body; not by a long shot.)

Shaken, Rosie heads home to take a pregnancy test – she and Chad are trying to conceive, with no luck so far. She’s interrupted by an unexpected visitor – Ivan’s daughter Dana, whom Rosie has never met. Estranged from Ivan, Dana angrily confronts Rosie with the news that she and Chad have inherited Ivan’s apartment, which Dana had expected to go to her. Chad quickly arrives and attempts to placate Dana, who leaves spewing threats of legal action and ominous declarations that Rosie doesn’t know the man she married.

The news that Rosie and Chad have been gifted this beautiful apartment is met with euphoria on Chad’s part. Rosie’s feelings are a bit more complicated. First of all, she feels guilty about Dana. Also, while the absence of a rent payment helps – Chad is a struggling actor and Rosie needs to get a deal for this next book to bring money in – there are also taxes and maintenance and co-op fees to consider. Rosie, the pragmatist of the two, is already thinking they may not be able to hold onto the place for long before having to sell it.

This book had obvious parallels to Rosemary’s Baby, from the protagonist’s name to her husband’s profession to the seemingly benign elderly neighbors (but are they?) to the intriguing but increasingly unsettling apartment building. The author acknowledges the homage in the notes at the end of the book. I am ambivalent about supernatural elements in suspense, but I thought it was rather well done, for the most part, in The New Couple in 5B. (Possible spoiler: there are no Satanists and no demon babies in this book.)

The supernatural touch extends to something that Rosie experiences after moving in: she sees dead people. (Shades of another horror movie!) One is a silent little boy that she first encounters in the basement; later she sees a mysterious young lady in the landing outside her apartment.

Rosie’s sixth sense goes back to childhood, a childhood that she alludes to as difficult early in the book. She is estranged from her parents, and when her younger sister contacts her, she gives off a weird cult vibe. The truth is a bit less ominous, to the point that I wondered why it was such a big deal. (To be fair, I shouldn’t judge anyone for being traumatized by their crazy relatives.)

In my last review, of The Devil and Mrs. Davenport, I said there was a lot going on in that book, and it’s true for The New Couple in 5B as well. Though the books are *very* different, they actually share a few similarities, such as the paranormal abilities of their heroines.

Things that are going on in this book: both Rosie and Chad at professional crossroads, trying to push themselves to greater success in challenging fields; their attempts to conceive; the big move into the new place; and the fact that bodies start piling up shortly after that move. (That last one is probably a bit out of place with its prosaic predecessors.)

Other concerns: Rosie wonders about the odd, apparently ageless and seemingly on call 24/7 doorman, Abi. She’s disturbed by a newly installed speaker system in the apartments, in which residents can contact Abi by simply saying his name, like a corporeal Alexa. (Who thought THAT was a good idea? Rosie seems to be the only one remotely concerned about privacy implications.)

Weird things start to happen, like a box of Ivan’s stuff that she was trying to transport disappears. She sees a woman staring daggers at her at the opening of Chad’s play, but when she’s later introduced to the woman in another setting, the woman claims that she wasn’t at the play. There are a number of these sorts of unsettling incidents in the book, and while some of them don’t go anywhere, they are effective at conveying a sense that things are not quite right.

Also, there is a secondary storyline set in 1963; in the same apartment Rosie and Chad inherit, a couple named Willa and Paul live. These chapters are narrated by Willa; she’s a discontented wife to a novelist husband, and she’s cheating on him with an unnamed man. These interludes are interesting even though the resolution of the story can be seen coming from a mile away, and the identity of Willa’s lover is obvious as well. I’m not sure the storyline adds much to the overall story, but it doesn’t detract from it.

One also wonders about the solicitous neighbors, Ella and Charles. Charles grew up in the apartment they occupy, and in fact both apartments used to be one unit; Rosie’s apartment having been sold off long before. They seemed nice, so I wondered if it was the Rosemary’s Baby connection that was making me uneasy?

Of course, as bodies start to pile up, Rosie has more to worry about than weird neighbors. She and Max find an apparent suicide, and Rosie’s inability to reach Chad in the aftermath pings her suspicion. An acquaintance (apparently) jumps off the roof of the Windemere. In both cases, the dead person had reached out to Rosie and planned to tell her something important, but died before they could. Another character goes missing and then is found dead, and the police detective investigating the two previous deaths starts to focus on a suspect close to Rosie.

Chad appears devoted to Rosie, but he has a feckless air and a disturbing incident in his past that Rosie knows about. She trusts him, but should she? She’s aware that he gets away with a lot using his good looks and charm, and that does make her uneasy, particularly at certain key points in the story.

The New Couple in 5B had a reasonably non-batshit ending (or should I say endings?). The characters’ behaviors more or less made sense, as much as murder ever does. But I noticed there was still a bit of book left, which made the second ending predictable but somehow a little irritating to me? I’m not sure why but I think I would’ve preferred a slightly different ending. But overall this was a really solid suspense read for me – I’ll give it a B+ and look for other work from the author.



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has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she’s read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she’s had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she’s not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

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