Author is a retired attorney having practiced for 35 years in Illinois who now lives in Texas and started writing stories about a year and a half ago.
Book Review: The Couple Next Door
This novel is the debut novel of Shari Lapena. It is a contemporary mystery thriller dealing with the kidnapping of a couple’s baby daughter that keeps you enthralled from the start to the unusual finish. It’s another one of these books that you just can’t put down.
The story starts with the parents attending a dinner party at the couple’s next door neighbor’s townhouse. The protagonist's babysitter cancels before the party but the parents decide to go to anyway and take a monitor with them to keep track of their baby who they leave at home. Their townhouse and the neighbor’s are adjoining. Though the baby is in the house alone, the couple convinces themselves that they are close enough and everything will be fine because every half hour they take turns running home to check on and feed the child. And they can hear the child on the monitor if the child starts crying or fussing. Well obviously all this goes wrong and the baby disappears sometime around midnight after a evening of heavy drinking.
The detective handling the case is polite but relentless. He pursues each and every lead no matter how trivial it is to its ultimate logical conclusion. The parents are his prime suspects. The detective discovers things about both the mother and father that lead him to a number of possible theories. The prime one being that one of them killed the baby. All of his theories are probable and are continually brought up and readjusted as the facts unfold. Both parents had too much to drink that night. The husband might be having an affair with his neighbor. The mother has a history of past and present mental problems. The father has financial problems. The father doesn’t get along with the father in law. There is some but not much physical evidence. A neighbor sees something. The couple next door knows something but doesn’t tell. They have their reasons. The author does a good job of setting this all out. We hang on every word. Just one more clue and this will be solved we think. But no the suspense continues.
The other major players in this drama are the wife’s parents. They are the concerned grandparents of their only grandchild. They are millions of dollars wealthy. They put up the ransom money when finally the ransom demand is made.
The parents are lead to believe that all they have to do is pay the money to get their daughter back. So they follow the instructions of the kidnapper and don’t tell the police. You knew that one was coming. And of course the dealings with the kidnapper get all fouled up. The first attempt fails. Someone is murdered. A second ransom demand is made. Plans are made again without involving the police and all this time the strife between the father and father in law increases as does the strife between the parents, the grandparents and the detective. The wife becomes more distrustful of her husband. The marriage falls apart. Everyone lies to everyone about everything, except the detective who straightforwardly plows onward. Nothing gets accomplished except the prolonging of the case and their agony.
As to the couple next door, they figure in at the start and are neatly fitted into the ending but the focus of the story is on the couple themselves and not the couple next door. In fact as to the couple next door the focus is really on just one of them, the other one just happens to be married to that individual. For that reason I believe that the book's title is misleading and would have been more aptly named ‘The Couple Themselves’ since the whole book is really about the parents and the way they deal with each other, the kidnapping, the detective and the in laws. Nevertheless this takes nothing away from the thrill of the story or the beauty of the way it’s all woven together.
A little over a hundred pages from the end I thought I figured out ‘who done it.’ But as I read further I began to doubt myself and thus credit the author for keeping me dangling.
The book is written in everyday language. It has no extra flowery words or elaborate prose to fill the pages. Every word is to the point and necessary. Every word, sentence and paragraph moves the story along. The timeline is straightforward. There are no flashbacks or two stories going on at once like some books do. It drives to a conclusion. Needless to say it has a happy ending as to the baby but a twisted ending as to one of the parents.
When I saw this book at the library I didn’t of course recognize the author but since it said that the author was a former attorney, there are so many of them today, I decided to take a chance and give a fellow former lawyer a break. There’s nothing lawyerly about this book. It’s straight up mystery. But what really drew my attention to it was that on the back of the cover there were half a dozen blurb review sentences of praise all from well known contemporary best selling authors, one of which happens to have the same last name as me, though no relation. Read it. Enjoy it. It’s a well crafted mystery.