Monday 2 April 2018

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena - book review

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The Couple Next Door is a bestselling novel of psychological suspense by Shari Lapena, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in the whirl of the Toronto Bouchercon last year. Shari, who is herself based in Toronto, is a former lawyer, and I've always particularly enjoyed reading the crime fiction of legal eagles who have managed to fly away from the desk, the computer, and the clients for long enough to write a novel.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I'm a long-term fan of novels of psychological suspense, and when I read them, I find myself not only enjoying the story (assuming it's a good one) but also of studying the approach taken by the writer - whether it's Patricia Highsmith or Celia Fremlin in days gone by, or Paula Hawkins or Gillian Flynn today. For instance, a key decision is whether to opt for a first person narrative, or a third person single viewpoint narrative. Shari Lapena has chosen the third person multiple viewpoint method, and it's a choice well-suited to her plot. A key reason why it works so well is that it enables her to shift suspicion around a small cast of characters in a very effective way.

In a nutshell, this is a "baby in jeopardy" thriller.  Anne and Marco have been invited round to dinner by Graham and Cynthia, the couple next door, and have unwisely succumbed to pressure from Cynthia to leave their tiny daughter Cora at home, checking on her regularly. You can guess what's coming, can't you?

It's a long time since my own children were as small as Cora, but anyone who's been a parent can, I think, empathise with the terror of Anne and Marco as their life together rapidly falls apart, with Cora missing, and the police deeply suspicious that one or both of them may be implicated in the kidnap. Losing your child is really a parent's worst nightmare. At least Anne's own parents are rich enough to be able to afford to pay a ransom demand, but is that really such a good idea? The moral dilemmas come thick and fast, and so do the plot twists. This is a pacy, action-packed thriller, brimming with suspense. No wonder it's achieved such success.

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