Title: The Couple Next Door
Author: Shari Lapena
Release Date: 2016
My Rating: 6/10 Alright
A couple attend an ‘adults only’ dinner party next door, deciding to leave their six-month old daughter alone after the babysitter cancels. They take the baby monitor with them and check on her every half an hour, but on returning home in the early hours, they discover she is missing.
To begin with, this seems a little far-fetched. I’m not a mother, but I can’t imagine making the decision to leave my baby home alone when there are so many better solutions (take her with you, don’t go, invite next door round to your house instead). However, we all love a good kidnapping story, so I stuck with it.
The main problem I had with this book is the juvenile, rather amateurish language used. The use of present tense, and constant repeating of characters names (‘Marco walks in the room. Anne looks at him. Marco sits down.’ – not a direct quotation, but you get the idea). It all becomes a little tedious in style. This is also evident in the way obvious feelings and thoughts are over explained. To be frank, and perhaps a little harsh, it’s as if the author has little understanding of subtlty and insinuation in language: ‘Marco needs to know what happened. He must find out where Cora is. What has happened to her? Why has she been taken?’ – again this isn’t a direct quotation, but surely this is the whole point of the book? This sort of thing is repeated so often it reads like a last minute university assignment where you’re desperately trying to meet the word count. It’s pointless ramble that doesn’t move the story on at all. With this in mind, the actual narrative of this book need only take 200 pages or less.
With the stilted, odd speech, and lack of profound narrative, the characters themselves also became a little two-dimensional and soulless. They were far too predictable in their actions and words, and didn’t have nearly deep enough back stories for me to feel any sympathy towards them. We knew nothing of the detective, other than his name. No physical description, no age, no personal information or background. I felt no compelling will for him to solve the crime because I simply didn’t know enough about him to care. He was merely a cliche detective, who is suspicious of everyone and ‘knows the truth is always out there’.
Enough of the negativity though. There’s a reason I have given this book 6/10 and not less. The plot was gripping enough – as I said, who doesn’t love a good kidnapping? The quick pace carried me through the book in just two days, however when all was revealed I felt a little underwhelmed. Sorry, there’s the negativity again.
I feel the story would make a better film than book. If framed a little better, and with a decent screenwriter and director to mix it up a little, it could be rather good. As a book however, it all just felt a little forced and substanceless.
Finally, without giving anything away, the final chapter was simply unnecessary. It made little sense and completely detracted from what we had learnt about the characters involved. A better ending might have been an epilogue further in the future, focussing on the aftermath, rather than just trying to shock unnecessarily.
Overall, despite mildly enjoying this book, I won’t be rushing out to buy Shari Lapena’s next novel. That being said, the easy reading nature of this book has gotten me out of a two month long reading rut, and for that I can only be grateful. 2018 will be a much better reading year for me.