When their babysitter cancels, Anne and Marco decide to leave baby Cora at home while they go next door for a dinner party. Anne is uncomfortable, but Marco assures her that they will take a baby monitor, and check on her every half an hour; there’s nothing that can possibly go wrong. But Cora is missing when they arrive home, and the resulting events send the family into turmoil.
This is a story that has obvious similarities to real-world events; a child is left alone at home and subsequently disappears, with suspicion and public disapproval being instantly heaped upon the parents. But though it seems as though this is a story that is going to deal with the idea of parents being publicly shamed by their poor decision, it turns quite quickly into a thriller dealing with the two main characters of Anne and Marco, the parents of baby Cora.
Anne is suffering with post-partum depression, and this causes her to doubt her own memories of the evening in question. She’s quite sure that she hasn’t harmed her baby, but she can’t be entirely certain. Though this is a story written in the third person, we are party to everything that both Anne and Marco are thinking; we know that Anne loves her baby and would never harm her, but as the people around her, including the police, question her state of mind, she starts to doubt herself.
We are also intermittently given access to the thoughts of the police detective, Rasbach, as he tries to put everything into place to discover the whereabouts of the baby. This isn’t a crime thriller, so his isn’t the most important voice in the story, but knowing what his suspicions are allows the reader to try and make their own judgements. With Anne’s mental health issues, and the carefully placed reasons for initially suspecting Marco, we aren’t sure of our footing with these characters, and how reliable they are as third-person narrators.
There are enough twists and turns in the story to keep the reader guessing, and though I just about guessed how things were going to conclude with regards to the missing baby, I was still kept guessing, and the end certainly packed a punch.
Lapena didn’t feel the need to create characters who were entirely likable; it was easy to sympathise with them as they dealt with the trauma of having their baby kidnapped, but learning about them throughout the investigation allowed them to be presented as fully rounded characters, and not always the nicest people.
I read this book during my lunchtimes, and putting it down to go back to work was tough! It grabbed my attention and kept it, as I was so eager to find out what had happened to the baby, and to see if it was going to be possible for this family to put themselves back together.
This is a worthy addition to the ‘grip lit’ genre, with a fresh take on it; not here do we have a female protagonist at the centre of a psychological thriller, but a family, making it a domestic thriller, and the pace of the book means that once it gets you within its grips (within pages if you’re anything like me), you’ll find it hard to put it down until you’re finished.
The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
First published: 14th July 2016
Review copy provided by publisher