But there are some books for which exceptions have to be made. And Shari Lapena’s The Couple Next Door turned out to be one of those.
When their babysitter cancels at the last minute, Marco convinces his wife Anne that they can leave their infant daughter home alone while they attend a dinner party next door. If they take the baby monitor with them and take turns checking on their daughter every half hour, nothing could possibly go wrong.
Coming back home from the party, they discover the door ajar and their baby kidnapped. The police are called in and things just aren’t adding up on how and who could or would have kidnapped the little girl. As the investigation deepens, secrets about not only Marco and Anne are revealed but also about their neighbors and Anne’s parents. In short, everyone has something to hide when it comes to the kidnapping.
I have to admit that about a tenth of a way into the novel, I had to skip ahead and see how certain events played out. I didn’t want to ruin any of the twists or character revelations (I luckily didn’t) but instead wanted to find make sure the baby didn’t come to any harm. As a new parent, the idea of someone kidnapping an infant daughter gave me the cold sweats and I didn’t want to continue the story if the outcome was extremely negative.
I’m happy to report by the end of the story, the daughter is returned. But before we get to that point, we find out a LOT of dirty laundry about everyone involved. Marco’s business is failing, Anne is hiding secrets from her past and her parents aren’t above reproach either. The neighbors next door have some interesting peccadillos and may know something more about the kidnapping than they are willing to tell for a variety of reasons. Like the layers of an onion, you keep peeling them back to reveal more and more as the plot unfolds.
For the first three-quarters of the novel, it works extremely well. Lapena’s pacing and willingness to have us mistrust every one of her characters is an effective, engaging hook. But it’s once we reach the last quarter of the novel and things start to go sideways quickly that I began to be pulled out of the novel and wondering if she wasn’t piling onto the misery of the characters and the situation. There are a few twists too many in the final pages, which ultimately kept me from loving the book as much as I did in the early goings.