The Couple Next Door, by Shari Lapena, is a psychological thriller that explores every parent’s worst nightmare – the abduction of a child. This is no ordinary abduction though, if such a thing can be possible. Six month old Cora has been taken from her crib while she slept in the tastefully decorated nursery of her parent’s upstate New York home. She has been taken in the middle of the night when she was home alone.
Her parents, Anne and Marco, had not intended to leave their baby girl alone when they agreed to attend their next door neighbours’ birthday dinner party. A sitter had been booked but then she cancelled just an hour before the event. The childless couple next door had clearly stated that this was to be an evening for adult’s only. They could hear how much Cora cried through the shared wall and had no intention of allowing this difficult to settle baby to disrupt their plans.
Marco, keen to enjoy an evening out, persuaded Anne that they should still attend. They took with them their baby monitor and popped home every half hour to ensure Cora was fine. When they eventually returned in the wee small hours, drunk on wine and irritated by each other’s behaviour, they found their front door ajar and their daughter gone.
The prose has a dispassionate quality that enables the reader to discern each of the main characters thought processes. There is the mother, heaping guilt on herself for her post partum depression, for not appreciating the perfect baby she has been gifted, for allowing her husband to persuade her to go out when she knew it was wrong. There is the father, shocked and numbed, fearful of the impact this is having on his fragile wife and their relationship, aware that the police investigation will bring to light financial troubles he has not divulged. There is the lead detective, meticulously carrying out his investigations, aware that in cases like these the parents are most often to blame, determined to uncover how and why.
Anne has wealthy parents and hopes that Cora has been kidnapped for a ransom. As the days pass and the media circus outside their home condemns them for leaving an infant whilst they partied, the police begin to believe the worst. There are possible motives – Anne’s mental history, Marcus’s financial distress – but leads are scarce. The detective digs deeper in an attempt to uncover the truth and loses the trust of the family. They decide to take matters into their own hands.
A good thriller will keep the reader hooked, offering clues but hiding the big reveal until the end. As the denouement approached and the threads came together I couldn’t read fast enough. I had not anticipated those final twists in the tale.
It is terrifying to consider how an ordinary life can be picked apart. Seemingly innocuous details were construed to imply guilt, secrets unearthed and their importance inflated. The shock and stress of the unrolling events are finely depicted. The analysis of a relationship will always bring to light flaws.
A tense and taut tale, cleverly constructed. The quality of the writing offers enough originality to make it worth selecting from a crowded genre. I finished this in a sitting and felt sated. A fast moving and enjoyable read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Bantam Press.