This seems to be the year for debut novels that are very well crafted. “The couple next door” is a riveting suspense novel that keeps readers turning the pages frantically to follow the plight of its characters. With a fast-paced plot that is meticulously written, all I can say is well done Shari Lapena!
From the publisher:
Anne and Marco Conti seem to have it all–a loving relationship, a wonderful home, and their beautiful baby, Cora. But one night when they are at a dinner party next door, a terrible crime is committed. Suspicion immediately focuses on the parents. But the truth is a much more complicated story.
Inside the curtained house, an unsettling account of what actually happened unfolds. Detective Rasbach knows that the panicked couple is hiding something. Both Anne and Marco soon discover that the other is keeping secrets, secrets they’ve kept for years.
What follows is the nerve-racking unraveling of a family–a chilling tale of deception, duplicity, and unfaithfulness that will keep you breathless until the final shocking twist.
I agree with everything the publisher has to say. It is a novel of secrets, of betrayal, and of parental guilt. The reader has mixed feelings for the young couple with emotions that alternate between empathy and revulsion and everything else in between.
Anne Conti didn’t want to leave her baby alone the evening of their next door neighbors dinner party. But Cynthia, the hostess, wanted a ‘adults only’ party, the babysitter cancelled at the last minute, and her husband convinced her that if they took the baby monitor and took turns checking on baby Cora every half hour, it would be alright.
It was anything but!
Marco is very attracted to his next door neighbor Cynthia. He is tired of walking on eggshells around his wife Anne who has been suffering from postpartum depression. The night out serves as a much needed way to have more than a few drinks and blow off some steam. But… at the end of the day he DOES love Anne and he adores his baby daughter. So when they return home to an empty house with the baby gone, he is devastated.
Or is he???
This novel was written in such a way that the reader is unsure of whom to trust. Is Anne as innocent as she seems? Is Marco? Do they deserve the predicament they’ve found themselves in? Or, are they innocent and distraught that their first child has been taken? And what about Anne’s wealthy parents?
In all honesty, I should be giving this novel a strong 5* rating. The writing was superior and the tension was palpable.
There are however, mitigating factors which give me pause. When I began reading it I thought to myself that I had read this book before… but that was impossible as it is a new release. Then I looked back through my reviews and realized it is uncomfortably similar in premise to a novel by Joy Fielding called “She’s not there” which I reviewed about a year ago. The babysitter cancels, the child is left unattended in order that the parents can attend a dinner party. They agree to check on her every half hour. The husband is attracted to the wife of the other couple… See what I mean? Both novels are very well written, and the story-lines do diverge eventually, but one of the twists in each is also disturbingly similar. It almost makes me wonder if the authors attended a writer’s workshop or retreat that provided them with a short premise that they were to expand on. Interestingly, both authors reside in Toronto, Canada. Would I recommend both novels? Absolutely! Each did a remarkably good job, but the fact that the similarities exist prohibit me from giving “The couple next door” more than a 4* rating.
I’ve soul searched about this. I’m not suggesting anything was plagiarized, but it sparks the questions: Is anything ever truly original? Aren’t all novels a product of what we have seen, read, or experienced? I’d love your thoughts on this topic.
Shari Lapena worked as a lawyer and as an English teacher before turning her hand to writing fiction. She resides in Toronto, Canada. “The couple next door” is her suspense fiction debut.