Review: The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

I have a thing about hardback formats – they’re more expensive and I really don’t like to read novels in hardback because, yes, I am one of those readers who bends the front cover so that I can only see one page at a time. Sometimes.

But there was also no way that I was going to wait for this book to come out on paperback either, so I bought it in e-book format and read it that way instead. Can I just say that this was possibly one of the best decisions I have ever made? I used to be so against e-book formats because they don’t give you the physical copy of the book. However, they are actually so much easier to read in my opinion and even though I don’t have a physical copy of the book, I think I’d still buy it in the future!

Now, onto the actual content of the book… The Couple Next Door ticks a lot of boxes. The story line is really really good and it is full of all the twists and turns you would expect to find in a crime novel. It actually exceeds expectations when it comes to this, because the story line really isn’t simple, it’s very, very complex.

When we first meet Marco and Anne, they seem like your average married couple. They’ve been together for a long time, they have a baby and they’re both just a little bit fed up with one another. Marco is flirting with the attractive woman whose party they’re at next door and Anne is pitying her baby weight and general loss of sex appeal indoors, with said attractive woman’s husband. Their marriage might not be the most solid of relationships, but you assume that nothing sordid is going on because they have a baby and because they are still together.

But it only goes downhill from here. The novel reveals that both of them are perhaps as twisted as each other and that on the whole, they are absolutely abysmal parents. We’ll begin with the fact that they leave their 6 month old baby, alone, in their house next door to attend a party. That’s right, these are parents who prioritise a party over the safety and welfare of their own child.

Later on, we find that Anne is psychologically unstable. She’s suffering from post-natal depression and she has a disorder (like Norman Bates from American Psycho) that causes her to blackout and forget the things she’s done. I find this so so interesting and I only wish that it had been explored more. But I’ll have a little bit more to say on that later.

Marco, I absolutely despise. His business is suffering, he asks Anne’s multi-millionaire parents for money to help him keep it afloat and they refuse him. So what does he do? He takes the advice of a friend (I use the term friend very loosely here because he barely even knows this guy) and agrees to stage the kidnapping of his own daughter, to demand ransom money off his parents-in-law and therefore save his business. Sorry but who does that? I don’t think any normal person would do that. So as normal as Marco might seem in comparison to Anne, with her psychological instability, I actually think he’s far worse than she is. Because he knows what he’s doing and he does it anyway!

There are a few things I disliked about this novel, as with any. The writing isn’t star quality, in fact, it’s rather average and Shari Lapena as an author isn’t really anything special judging by the way this book is written. Perhaps I’d have to read a few of her other works to cement this, but from what I’ve seen, her craft is fairly basic. She uses a lot of cliches in her writing, so a lot of the description and character construction is nothing original. Marco is your typical dark-haired bad boy, who used to ride a motorbike and had that cool, nonchalant attitude that seems to make teenage girls drool. Detective Rasbach has nothing distinctive about him – he’s the same as any other detective really. And having said that, so is the other detective in the novel, whose personality is so flat that I can’t even remember his name or what he even did in the story. Then you’ve got your rich parents. The cliched millionaires who have so much money that they’re more than willing to part with any requested amount of it. Five million dollars? Yes. Another two million? Yes. Pay for the “top” lawyer in town? Of course! What even is the top lawyer in town anyway? It’s always the top this or that but we never really hear why they’re so established. What cases have they won? What is their history?

I would say I had a significant problem with the characters in this story because they all just felt so flat. And it’s a shame, because there are seriously interesting back stories to almost all of them. The only character who was done well was Cynthia and even she could do with just a little bit more authenticity.

Another problem was that the story repeats itself, a lot. You hear a story from one character – say Detective Rasbach figuring out that Marco must have arranged the kidnapping to try and save his business. And then you hear it again from Marco worrying that Rasbach has figured him out. And it sounds exactly the same. The same thing happens with the story of Anne attacking that girl while she was at school. We hear it from the old school teacher and then we hear it again from Rasbach and later from Anne’s mother, if I’m correct. Another instance of it happening, is with regards to Anne’s post-natal depression. We hear about that from Anne and then from Marco and then from Rasbach and then from her own mother later on in the story. But we already know about her depression, unless there is something new to bring to light about it, then we don’t need to waste space repeating it.

On the whole, however, I still feel that this is a story worth reading. It’s good and it’s something worth having on your shelf. It’s full of little twists and terms, most of which are unfortunately preempted by the narration, but it still manages to work. Only just. And for that reason, I would recommend this as it is an enjoyable read.

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