Saturday, 25 March 2017

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapeña

With a small cast of characters, debut thriller writer, Shari Lapeña, extracts plenty of tension from the claustrophobic scenario she creates in The Couple Next Door. The story opens with a dinner party held by Cynthia and Graeme, who is celebrating his birthday. They are the neighbours of the main characters, Anne and Marco, who leave their baby home alone when their babysitter cancels at the last minute. They are after all just next door, and with half-hourly checks and a baby monitor, what could go wrong?

Anne is reluctant, she feels out of shape and plain next to the glamorous Cynthia, to say nothing of leaving baby Cora, but Marco insists. Anne has been struggling with post-natal depression, and a night out is just what she needs. But when the drinks keep flowing, and Cynthia flirts outrageously with Marco, and the hours tick by, it is soon no fun for Anne. Imagine the couple’s horror to return to find their baby gone and the front door left open.

Enter Inspector Rasbach and the spotlight is suddenly on Anne and Marco – had Anne’s depression caused her to kill her baby and for Marco to cover up the crime? And what of Marco’s failing business and growing debts? The investigation spirals slowly outwards when Anne’s wealthy parents arrive on the scene and a ransom demand finally arrives. Then there is the secret harboured by Cynthia and Graeme that threatens to tweak up the tension another notch.

This is a tightly written and compelling novel, the main characters full of flaws and insecurities, and as the pressure builds they seem ready to break. You get a good picture of the stresses on a young mother, struggling to manage her mental health while keeping up appearances, though the police investigation is only sketchily drawn. Other characters are also a little cardboard, and few are at all likeable; the book is all about the plot. It did keep my interest, though, and I belted through the chapters in no time. Sometimes a good airplane read is just what you need.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: The Couple Next Door

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