Author: Shari Lapena
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena was a well written thriller, that left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied.
I wouldn’t fault the writing for that. The author kept the pace right, offering us little details that pulled us into reading.
Anne and Marco Conti have been invited to a dinner party by next door neighbours Cynthia and Graham Stillwell. As Cynthia insists on a child-free evening, they have to leave six-month-old baby Cora in her playpen at home. When the babysitter cancels at the last moment, Anne is unwilling to go ahead with the party, but Marco convinces her otherwise. They decide to check on the baby every half hour.
At the party, Marco, who is reticent and moody at home, becomes the life of the party, flirting openly with the glamorous Cynthia, which becomes a comment on the state of their marriage.
A little after midnight, the Contis return home to find their baby taken. The police are called in, and Detective Rasbach is touched by the obvious distress of the parents yet something feels off. He also feels the strain in the marital relationship.
The parents become his prime suspects, Marco, because of the financial ills plaguing his company, and Anne, because of her tendency to be violent when under severe stress. And yet he can’t quite figure out what they have done wrong, other than leave their child unattended, and how they are implicated in the kidnapping of their own child.
Soon he finds the treadmarks of another car, and reasons that either the kidnapper acted on his own or was Marco’s accomplice.
The police do everything in their power to trace the baby. Yet they are unable to trace the whereabouts of the infant. Then Marco gets the idea of offering the kidnapper $3 million to bring Cora back and not face prosecution. Alice and Richard Dries, Anne’s extremely wealthy mother and stepfather, who dislike Marco, fork up the money. The Drieses add their own drama to the mix.
When Detective Rasbach interviews Cynthia, he discovers a whole lot of secrets tumbling out. But the truth is even stranger than we, the readers, imagined.
I won’t tell you whether baby Cora is found and what happens to the other characters, but I will tell you that the ending was completely unexpected and completely blew me away. I wish it didn’t have to be quite that way.
I found the title of the book more than a little misleading. At the beginning of the story, we see two couples so we don’t know which one the title refers to. Very quickly we figure out that the couple refers to the Contis, but the novel isn’t written from the POV of the Stillwells, so calling the Contis the Couple Next Door continues to be misleading.
While the story is written in the 3rd person present tense, the writing takes us into the minds of Anne, Marco and Detective Rasbach.
I am not too sure about the use of the present tense. Maybe the author intended to render a certain urgency to the narrative, as it should be when a little baby goes missing. But there are times when it becomes necessary to slip into the past, and the author couldn’t quite give the transition into flashback mode the fluidity it needed. Sentence construction becomes awkward.
I thought the author should have given us a little more about the dynamics of the relationships between the characters. A little more of what was going on inside their heads would have added a more interesting dimension to the story.
(I read an ARC from First To Read.)
(I read an ARC from First To Read.)