Blog tour: The Other Tenant by Lesley Kara

The Other Tenant

This post is part of a blog tour organised by Random Things Blog Tours. I received a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.

‘Marlow has always lived in unusual places. But when she accepts a position as a live-in property guardian, she finds herself moving somewhere she swore she’d never return to.

‘Right from the start, she knows it’s a terrible mistake. The elegant Victorian school is due to be turned into luxury apartments, but its eerie, empty corridors are full of Marlow’s worst memories.

‘And now something sinister is happening on the site. One of the other tenants has disappeared without warning, and Marlow suspects that the nine other guardians know far more than they’re letting on. She’s determined to find out what happened to the missing woman – but which of these strangers can she trust?

‘And can she uncover the truth before her own past catches up with her?’

The Other Tenant

In The Other Tenant, by Lesley Kara, we follow Marlow Cairns, a studio photographer in her early 30s, as she moves into her latest accommodation as a property guardian – which happens to be her old secondary school.

Property guardians are contracted to occupy empty buildings that are due for redevelopment, deterring anti-social behaviour in return for cheap rent. Marlow is one of ten in residence across the former McKinleys school site.

When Marlow discovers that her predecessor, Hayley, disappeared very suddenly without saying goodbye, she feels compelled to investigate whether Hayley truly left of her own free will. Could one or more of the other guardians – many of whom seem to be hiding something or other – hold the key?

At the same time, Marlow is forced to face her own demons from her time at the school. When she was 18, her best friend Lottie died in a fire in the art block – a death for which Marlow has always blamed herself, and that has shaped her life ever since.

Lesley Kara has done it again! The Other Tenant has quite a few characters and threads, yet she succeeds in keeping them distinct and easy to keep hold of. I galloped through the chapters as new information continually came to light, and Marlow and other characters kept getting/nearly getting caught in places they shouldn’t be. I just had to know what happened next.

The setting of an abandoned school – and Marlow’s troubled history with it – gives the story a really spooky atmosphere, which I revelled in. As well as the haunting vibe inherent in the deserted classrooms, abandoned furniture and equipment, and ancient graffiti in echoing toilet stalls, Marlow keeps finding things Hayley would surely have taken with her, and there are strange events nobody can satisfactorily explain.

While the core of the story is told from Marlow’s first-person perspective, we also cut away to scenes with other characters, which ramp up the intrigue as they tend to raise more questions than they answer.

Why is rules-obsessed House Guardian Rob experiencing so much inner conflict? What’s the deal with Elle and Craig? Where does the unpleasant internet troll who hates Marlow fit in? And is there anyone Big Dave won’t sleep with?

I found Marlow a likeable main character, which was particularly welcome, as my previous two reads had happened to feature dislikeable, morally grey ones! I was drawn to her curiosity and tenacity in getting to the bottom of Hayley’s unexpected departure, and admired her for expending so much effort trying to find someone she didn’t even know.

I felt a lot of sympathy for Marlow as she struggled with her memories and guilt over her friend’s death. She also seems very lonely, as her parents (who don’t really understand her anyway) live abroad and she keeps her one remaining friend, Dev, at arms’ length because she’s scared of losing someone close again.

A theme that stands out to me across all of Lesley’s books is that of “home”: her protagonists commonly find themselves in situations where home doesn’t mean safety (The Rumour, The Apartment Upstairs), or they don’t have much of a stake in the place they live (Who Did You Tell?, The Dare). The Other Tenant combines both of these.

While some commentators may portray property guardianship as a counter-cultural lifestyle choice, it doesn’t seem like many of Marlow’s fellow guardians would choose it if there was an affordable, more permanent alternative.

Marlow herself refers to the fact that, out of necessity, she has few possessions. She also considers the challenge of making a space feel like your home when it’s not designed for domestic use, you’re only there on a provisional basis, and the building itself might not even exist in a few months’ time.

It speaks volumes that Marlow regards her peripatetic existence a fitting punishment for what happened when she was 18, and that Harry Kierney, who owns the property guardian company, is incredibly posh and very much looks down on the tenants.

The Other Tenant seamlessly blends intrigue and suspense with thought-provoking social commentary.

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About Alice Violett

Writer of blogs and short stories, reader of books, player of board games, lover of cats, editor of web content, haver of PhD.

Colchester, UK