The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

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“The wife is always the last to know, right?”

I’ll admit it took quite a while for me to get into this latest literary offering of domestic noir. I’ve read the words “Gone Girl” in reviews and that comparison never fails to make me feel a bit squeamish, as few books truly manage to capture that special thrill as excellently as Gillian Flynn does. And sadly this one did not.

I thought the setup for this book was quite intriguing: a couple leaves their baby girl home alone while they attend a party at their neighbours’ house, they agree to check on her every half hour and since they’re just next door, what could possibly go wrong? But, you guessed it, they return home in the early AM and find that baby Cora has gone missing. Who took her? Why? The detective assigned to the case has little hope to find her alive and, disturbingly, his suspicions immediately turn on the parents. Are they really involved, can their version of events be trusted, can they trust each other? It becomes a twist-and-turns dash to find the baby and uncover the truth of what happened that night.

It’s a parent’s worse nightmare plot and it reveals just enough at times to keep you interested, and once I did get into it I read most of it in a single sitting. Did I thoroughly enjoy it? Not really, but almost. The plot fell flat quite quickly, and even though a few red herrings are thrown into the mix in the form of character’s anxieties about their actions, perceived guilt and the revelation of family secrets, it is rather predictable. Most bizarre is a strange final chapter that seems to have been tacked on at the last minute; completely unnecessary. What I did enjoy most was the narrating style. It’s not the best written book I’ve ever read, but I liked being a fly on the wall and watching these characters’ reactions to their unusual circumstances. They doubt, lie and suspect not only each other but also themselves. That rapid spinning out of control as things become heated, is something I always enjoy encountering in a novel. And, I did keep reading because I just had to know what really happened to baby Cora. Well done on keeping me hooked, then.

To me, what makes a domestic thriller just that – slither up your spine thrilling – is that the reader is confronted with the idea that a trusted spouse, friend or a neighbour has something sinister up their sleeve. The amateur criminal inevitably overplays their hand and it’s watching those slip ups and caught-in-the-act instances unfold, that makes this genre so compelling. These things could be happening in the house next door and, sometimes, they do. I do think if you’re looking for a quick read to help you out of a reading slump, this might be for you. Otherwise, there are better and more chilling tales of what goes on behind closed doors.

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