The Couple Next Door | Shari Lapena | 2016 (14 July) | Bantam Press | 304p | Review copy | Buy the book
Anne Conti isn’t happy. She and her husband Marco have been invited to their neighbours for dinner and the babysitter has cancelled. Anne wants to stay at home and look after their six-month old baby Cora but Marco insists they still go out. The neighbour doesn’t care for babies but they can take the monitor with them, they’d hear every sound, and every thirty minutes Anne and Marco can take it in turns to pop home to check on the baby. Against her better judgement, Anne is persuaded to go. Her instincts prove right. When they finally get home at 1.30am, the front door is open and the cot is empty. The baby has been stolen.
The Couple Next Door carries us through the drama and trauma of this absence, so violently inflicted on Anne and Marco. Along with the grief there is guilt and shame – how will the world judge them for leaving their little daughter unattended? Parents take sides, cruel things are said that can’t be unsaid, the media watches, and the police come and go, their questions increasingly targeted. Detective Rasbach is no fool. He’s seen it all. And he knows that there is something going on here. He knows he will discover the truth. It’s only a matter of time.
As soon as I started The Couple Next Door I knew that it was one of those books that would make no apologies for gobbling up my time. Psychological thrillers centred upon missing children are no rare thing these days but this one grabs from the outset. We have to know what happened. It doesn’t let you rest. We’re taken deep into the pain of Anne and Marco and it is relentless. We need to know.
It’s quite a story, a twisty thriller full of unexpected surprises revealed one after the other as the hours and days pass. When something as terrible as this happens secrets are no longer allowed but another thing banned is politeness. This is raw.
I did guess some of it, other bits I didn’t. There were also developments in the story that I didn’t care for. Much of the book is well-balanced on the side of believable but there are a few aspects of it that tip it over the wrong edge and I was not so keen on that. My main stumbling block here were the characters. Excluding the detective, who remains as inscrutable as a waxwork, the main characters were not very likeable and they became increasingly less likeable as the novel went on. Innocence is suffering in this novel and that is the child and the child alone.
The Couple Next Door is a fast, fun read indeed, actually making me miss my bus stop. While I didn’t find it as polished and sophisticated as some of the best psychological thrillers being published at the moment, it’s certainly better than some that I’ve read recently. If you’re after an entertaining holiday read then this will do the job.