Tag Archives: Shari Lapena

The Couple Next Door – Shari Lapena

The Couple Next Door – Shari Lapena Published by Penguin Books in 2016 (316 pages) the third novel from Canadian writer Shari Lapena. It’s a masterclass in plotting a fast pace thrill ride… although I think the term is a bit over used, by the second half this book is a real page turner… and I’m glad to be reading a physical copy for the shear joy of actually tuning pages! Much like watching a movie meant to be seen on the big cinema screen.

It’s an intensely intimate look into the characters, their inner world, their life together, not so much their hopes and dreams but their fears and suspicions. Right from chapter one we jump into the heart of the crime… the next ten chapters really focuses on Anne and Marco, but chapter three, Anne becomes ‘the mother’ and Marco becomes ‘the husband’ and it isn’t made clear why. Perhaps this is a chapter written from the detective’s point of view.

Then… click bait alert, chapter eleven is straight out of left field. Things are not what they seem. And by chapter seventeen, the curves start flying – and we know the theme of this is all about the secrets… those we keep from others, but so much more those we keep from ourselves.

But let’s talk about the ending, those last five chapters… the dominoes have been falling one by one and from here the pace just accelerates to a point where all the remaining dominoes are just dumped in a heap, but the truth wins out through a strangling thicket of thorns, and no one comes up unscathed.

And just when you think it’s over… the final chapter holds that sign reading ‘but wait, there’s more’ and as for Anne, in the end, I like to think of her outcome as … ambiguous. But that’s just me, I’m an optimist.

“So what if the babysitter cancelled? They should have brought Cora with them, put her in a portable playpen. Buy Cynthia had said no children. It was to be an adult evening, for graham’s birthday. Which is another reason Anne has come to dislike Cynthia, who was once a good friend – Cynthia is not baby-friendly. Who says that a six month old baby you isn’t welcome at a dinner party? How had Anne ever let Marco persuade her that it was ok? It was irresponsible. She wonders what the other mothers in her mom’s group would think if she ever told them. We left our six-month old baby home alone and went to a party next door. She imagines all their jaws dropping in shock, the uncomfortable silence. But she will never tell them. She’d be shunned.”

An Unwanted Guest – Shari Lapena

An Unwanted Guest – Published by Pamela Dorman Books; 1st Edition, August 7, 2018 with 304 pages.

In a word – wow! Right from the start of this novel I had a feeling of closeness, of inclusion, of a tightknit cast of characters, and that something, something was going to happen. Even before the actual commencement of the murders to come, there is a thread of suspense. You could not have struck that chord quicker than if you had started with: “It was a dark and stormy night”, because, though it is a dark and stormy night, our cast is assembling during the day.

We are quickly introduced to the cast of characters and get to know them at a superficial level. One thing that I really liked here is that we are introduced to the characters mostly in pairings, such as; Gwen and Riley, a pair of friends on holiday; Matthew and Dana, an engaged couple, Lauren and Ian, an unmarried couple; Beverly and her husband Henry, an older couple married for several years; James and his son Bradley who own and operate the inn, and then there are two other guests unrelated to any others David and attorney who has had charges of murdering his wife dismissed due to lack of evidence, and a writer Candice who is already a guest at the inn.

In quick work the cast is snowed in with a storm outside cutting the inn off from the rest of the world, as well as its electricity. The plot moves quickly. First an apparent accident (or is it David is quick to point out) has the guests openly speculating if a murder or an accident has occurred. Then, when the second body turns up later that day, there is no doubt that homicide stalks the guests. They congregate in the inn’s ground floor lounge with a large fireplace an ample seating for the perception of protection as much as for heat.

It here, in this setting that we begin to get a more in-depth look into the lives of our characters. Everything is laid out in such a flowing narrative, there is just enough detail to give the story lift. I had a feeling of sailing through the story taking it all in and feeling the tension growing, reaching its height at the start of the final third of the story.

The mystery ends as the police are finally able to reach the inn and begin their investigation. This is what covers probably the last ten percent of the novel. The motivation for the initial murder is revealed here… it wasn’t something that could be gleaned from the story itself. But… the clues are there for the reader to determine the most likely suspect before the police arrive. David knows, but he won’t tell you till its all over, and I won’t spoil it here… you just have to read it for yourself.

The main theme here is ‘you never really know anybody’. This is wonderful, clear, straightforward writing and a masterfully crafted story… THIS is why we read mysteries!

“Henry gives this some consideration. His wife has a lot of irritating qualities, but stupidity isn’t one of them. … [he’s] learned a thing or two this weekend. He’s learned that he himself has it in him to be a killer. He finds it’s not tat big a leap, after all, to imagine anyone else as a killer either.”