The advance reading copy of The Couple Next Door began with an editor’s note that set up pretty high expectations:
Did it meet the expectations? Not quite, but to be fair, it’s still a good, solid mystery with multiple twists. I just wasn’t blown away, but to be fair, I was expecting the unreliability and twists of Gone Girl, the emotional resonance of The Girl on the Train and a big reveal to rival The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, so to be fair, my expectations were really high.
The story begins with every parent’s worst nightmare: Anne and Marco Conti return home from a dinner party to find their six month old daughter Cora missing. As the search for Cora continues, we learn that not all about Anne and Marco are as they seem, and in both cases their secrets raise the suspicions of Detective Rasbach, who is investigating Cora’s disappearance. Other characters include Anne’s multi-millionaire parents who hate Marco, and Anne and Marco’s flirty next door neighbour who may or may not be interested in an affair with Marco. All of the characters are compromised in some way, and red herrings abound as Detective Rasbach tries to figure out what really happened to Cora.
Like I said, it’s a good, solid mystery, and even when we think we have it figured out, Lapena brings out another twist that complicates the case and keeps Cora from safety. I was curious about the kidnapper’s identity, but not as emotionally caught up as I wanted to be, especially considering that a six month old baby was missing. There was something workmanlike about the reveals; we often found out about intriguing wrinkles only shortly before they are resolved, and suspects are suggested only to be summarily dismissed fairly quickly. The kidnapper’s identity is kept hidden throughout, but the most intriguing possibilities are revealed and/or debunked fairly quickly and the eventual reveal is unexpected but not that surprising. Despite their secrets and their clearly heightened emotions, Anne and Marco weren’t really unreliable as narrators, and both kept the reader fairly well grounded in what really was happening. The descriptions of emotions were perhaps realistic, but also a bit melodramatic, with Anne’s repeated screaming, for example, reminding me more of the damsel in classic detective movies than a real mother in distress. Finally, the twist at the end felt unnecessary, and while the elements for this were well set up in advance, the emotional build up could have been better laid out.
The Couple Next Door is not a bad book, but I caution against high expectations coming in. It’s a good, solid mystery and a quick entertaining read, and will keep you guessing.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.