The Couple Next Door, 2016
Signed up the 28/03/2017
Slightly estranged couple Anne and Marco Conti go against their better judgement and leave their new-born baby, Cora, in her cot to attend a dinner party next door. It's only next door, right? Especially if they take turns checking up on her every 30-minutes or so. Well, this very decision leads to a number of dire complications for the couple as a mystery begins to unravel.
Their baby is taken at some point in the night and they can't decide who between the two of them is at fault. The mother, going through postnatal depression, had a gut-feeling that something would go wrong because "what kind of mother does such a thing?" Her husband, a big flirt towards anybody but her, doesn't make it any easier as he straight away tries to pin it on her for being too drunk to secure the door. And now their little girl is out there, God knows taken by who, at the crack of morning and all they can do is try to find comfort in going at each other.
Before we're able to see the couple pick each other apart competely, the story is quickly turned to the police presence that almost awkwardly takes up more pages than it should- at least in the first few chapters, anyway. Especially with the lead detective, Rasbach, not adding much to the story except to serve as a bland example of what being calm and neutral is as an officer of the law in such dire situations. Sure, place no judgement and never get too attached to the situation or the suspects/victims, but, damn, give a little life and personality to the character if he's going to be this present in the story.
The nifty author, Shari Lapena, proves herself as capable as other authors in the mystery genre- who've set new and lofty standards with their ability to carry out an engrossing and competent narrative. The book can be likened to bestsellers such as Paula Hawkins' Girl on the Train and Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. This book was crafted for near perfection, but even the most attentive authors can miss a few times. The mystery is not quite sturdy, making it harder for the rest of the story to feel genuine and urgent enough at times to be durable. If a book offers you too much time thinking of taking breaks as it progresses then it's simply not written tightly and crafted tactically enough.
Anne worrying about her judgemental parents, the other moms in her moms' group and the entire neighbourhood's thoughts of her irresponsibility, her own struggles with mental illness and the couple's unsteady union, and the unnerving the incident has brought unto the two, were good enough openings to a promising consequential and rattling story. Lapena, though, struggles to keep up the momentum. This is especially evident towards the end where the big reveal isn't quite what you'd be satisfied with after committing your time to some 300 pages. (Had it been a novella, maybe).
My final thought would have to be that although Lapena did enough to wave the conversation toward the book and herself in 2016, The Couple Next Door isn't quite as personal-bookshelf worthy as the likes of Girl on the Train and Gone Girl. I will say, though, that the book is compelling enough to delve into. It is intriguing and loveable, and if you're not too fancy it can even be one of the best mystery books you'll read today.
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