The Couple Next Door: Shari Lapena
Baby Cora has gone missing! While Anne and Marco were at a dinner party, someone has broken into their house and taken her. They vowed to check on her every half hour, but perhaps that wasn’t even enough. When Detective Rasbach begins working their case, he feels sorry for them…at first. Soon it’s revealed that the seemingly happy couple has been keeping secrets from each other as well. How well do these neighbors actually know the couples next door?
Shari Lapena has so far pleasantly surprised me with her seemingly average-sounding stories, and such is somewhat true for The Couple Next Door. Many familiar elements are here. You have a couple with secrets. You have a protagonist who drinks too much AND has a mental illness (two unreliability factors for the price of one!). You have unlikable neighbors, one of whom is very attractive. You have potential affairs. I wasn’t sure about this book at first, but there is enough here to make it somewhat stand out in a sea of thrillers.
Granted, we don’t learn a lot about these characters. The novel is told in present tense, third person omniscient. This is definitely a unique choice for a novel like this; if there is one problem with it it’s that we don’t learn a lot about the main players and that it allows Lapena to summarize. On the other hand, readers get a full perspective into the story of Anne and Marco: a woman of wealth who married a working-class businessman against her parents’ wishes. Readers learn how Anne feels, how Marco feels, how her parents feel. The addition of the neighbors, Graham and Cynthia, do add their own tension and drama.This broad scope allows for readers to get a full picture when trying to crack the case. Of course, these characters aren’t terribly likable. Anne is pathetic and does little but cry. We learn that she is in a “fragile emotional state,” which is a phrase said so often that I felt like this was a non-digital attempt to SEO-ize the book so people who wanted that particular trait could find a book with it! Marco has his own issues which I won’t give away. So do her parents. But maybe you’re not supposed to like them. Either way, I was focused on the story more than the characters, which we learn the basics of but nothing more.
And that’s not necessarily a problem, because the story isn’t as straightforward as I believed. Lapena does something that most domestic suspense writers don’t do and shifts into reverse halfway through the book. It becomes less of “who did it?” and more of “why?” and “how?” Of course, there is still some of “who did it?” I didn’t find any of the reveals here to be a super big surprise, though. The detectives suddenly seem to get answers out of nowhere, and things settle too quickly. The neighborly dynamics reminded me of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation; you have the loving but messy family and then the uptight horror couple living next door.
Adding to the book’s differences were its’ subtle sentiments on judging others. After the kidnapping, the media doesn’t know how to keep their distance. Anne is flooded with hate mail from people who make assumptions about what “she” did. This was thought-provoking. Maybe we need to remember that others are human too, and that we shouldn’t be so quick to make assumptions.
I’m going to be honest: what really takes off points here is the ending. Readers of this blog know that endings can ruin thrillers for me, and what happened really didn’t even have anything to do with the plot, making me realize that one of Anne’s secrets was only included to lead up to a shocking ending. Bummer. I was very close to rating this book 2.5 stars because of it, however the interesting points of The Couple Next Door are interesting enough to consider it a standard novel.