If you’re after an easy read that you’ll knock over in a day or two, then reach for Shari Lapena’s debut thriller, The Couple Next Door. It’s fast paced, with a couple of twists and turns, but there’s no real concentration required. Initially, it’s quite reminiscent of a Madeleine McCann-style abduction, where a child mysteriously disappears while the parents are close by, checking at regular intervals.
When the babysitter cancels, doting mother Anne is reluctant to leave her baby, Cora, behind while they attend a dinner party. But her husband Marco is insistent, saying it will be fine – they only live next door, and the baby monitor will do the job in between their half-hourly checks. The hosts are their neighbours, tedious Graham and his glamorous, seductive wife Cynthia. Struggling with post-natal depression and still struggling to shift the post-baby weight, Anne feels inferior alongside Cynthia, who is flirting shamelessly with Marco over dinner. And even worse, Marco seems to be enjoying the attention. Finally, Anne convinces Marco that it’s time to leave – and horrifyingly, upon their return, they discover that Cora has vanished.
Detective Rasbach is brought in swiftly to investigate. An experienced police officer, Rasbach has handled many criminal cases that he’d rather forget. He’s thorough and objective, but he’s also immediately suspicious. After all, most kidnapping cases end up being the fault of the parents. Nonetheless, he’s committed to discovering Cora’s whereabouts, even though he suspects it will be a grim find.
And so, it continues – I won’t say anymore. To be honest, I enjoyed the first half of the book more than the second half. And when I say ‘enjoyed’, I really couldn’t put it down. It grabbed me – hook, line and sinker. There was nothing particularly spectacular about the writing style, but it’s a very easy, accessible read.
My main gripe with the book was the repetition of some of the content (Anne’s wish to turn back the clock comes to mind – but I guess that’s probably a dominant feeling if you’re the mother of an abducted child). And one relationship in particular, between two key characters, was set up from the outset to arouse suspicion, giving an air of predictability to the book. In this way, it was less sophisticated than other thrillers, such as The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl – and it doesn’t even rate a mention compared to my all-time favourite thriller…you guessed it, I Am Pilgrim (how many months until Hayes’ next book is released?!). But still, it did have some twists and turns that kept me guessing.
If, like me, you have friends or family members who only ever ask for book recommendations before a beach holiday, then this could be a good option. There’s nothing complicated about it. The chapters appear chronologically, there are no flash backs or flash forwards. Nothing that really makes you feel you need to concentrate. But sometimes that can be a good thing, especially after last month’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing.