I love Shari Lapena’s novels, and I absolutely adore thrillers about dysfunctional families. Bring on the drama, the childhood secrets, the backstabbing over inheritance! Especially in the hands of a writer like Lapena, who crafts vivid, engaging characters, and tosses in a few twists and turns, Not A Happy Family had me flipping through the pages as quickly as I could.
When millionaires Fred and Sheila Merton are found murdered in their stately upstate New York estate, their three adult children quickly become suspects. Prior to the murders, the family had had a rather explosive Easter dinner, where Fred’s cruel remarks sent the children and the long-time family housekeeper walking out early. All the children had motive to want to kill him: oldest child Catherine wants the family home, but learns on Easter that her father plans to sell it. Middle child Dan thought he’d be inheriting the family business, but his father just sold it to someone else. And youngest child Jenna is an artist who lives mostly off her father’s financial support, but he doesn’t seem inclined to keep that going for much longer.
Then there’s their aunt Audrey, who claims Fred had made plans just before he died to leave her half of his wealth, except he was murdered before he could meet with his lawyer to update the will. Pissed that the murder has deprived her of the inheritance, Audrey is convinced one of the children killed their parents, and is determined to find the killer and turn them in. Also on the list of suspects are the housekeeper Irena, who, more loyal to the children than to her employers, is found to have cleaned off the murder weapon. And an unexpected player, who may also benefit from Fred’s death.
It’s a domestic puzzle straight out of Agatha Christie, and I was riveted the entire time! I love the family dynamics. I love how the siblings immediately banded together out of a shared dislike for their father and a shared, illicit happiness at his death… and I especially love how they start turning on each other when the investigation starts narrowing in on each of them. Lapena has done a great job in making all these suspects have believable motives, and also in giving all of them shaky alibis. I didn’t expect the reveal when it came, and to be honest, I didn’t understand why the mother had to die as well when it seemed like most of the siblings’ beef was really with their father.
The epilogue was also *chef’s kiss* masterful. I don’t often pay much attention to the epilogues of these kinds of novels — I think mostly because they’re pretty predictable in that there’ll either be one final twist, or a nice glimpse into a main character’s happy ending. But this epilogue filled me with delight. i think it’s because the ending felt so unjust, and, well, kinda mean, and the epilogue was like a sly little wink that things will turn out as they should. I loved it.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for an e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.