Another book review (rant) and this one too is filled with spoilers.
This time I’m taking on The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena. I gave it 2 stars on Goodreads because despite everything I finished it, but that is where the good things about this book end. There are two ways in which this book is sort of an insult to a reader: the plot and the writing style.
Let’s start with the plot.
Anne and Marco go to their next door neighbours for dinner and leave their 6-months old baby alone at home with a baby monitor (broken video screen, so only sound) and check on her every half an hour. (REALLY?) The baby is kidnapped. After some time the kidnappers call them and ask for $5 mil and Anne’s parents (rich) give them the money. The detective in charge suspects something’s off about all of this. Marco goes to hand over the money. We find out that he arranged the kidnapping because his company is in financial trouble. Marco is hit over the head and the money is taken. The baby is nowhere to be found. Marco is questioned by the police, but keeps his mouth shut. The kidnapper turns up dead, still no baby. The next door neighbour has been secretly videotaping their house and she saw Marco hand over his child to someone in their garage. She blackmails him for $100,000. Anne suspects Marco is cheating on her because she found a hidden mobile phone and she throws a fit. Marco notices missed calls on the phone (he used it to communicate with the kidnapper). He answers the phone – it’s his father-in-law (stepfather), Richard. He says kidnappers sent him the phone and asked for $2 mil more. Marco tells his wife everything – he was in big financial trouble and he needed money. He asked Richard and he wouldn’t give him money, so he took the advice of a man who he had known for a couple of weeks, who he’d met in a park, and decided to kidnap his daughter, and have this dood do it. (REALLY? REALLY?) Anne sees the photo of the dead kidnapper and recognizes him as Richard’s friend. She is at her parent’s house one evening and she sees Richard sneaking out and follows him. He made the exchange – $2 mil for the baby. She gets her baby back. The police comes and promises Marco immunity if he testifies against Richard – his mother-in-law had Richard followed, she knew he was having an affair, the police tapped his phone and they knew he was lying about some things… Blah, blah, blah he orchestrated everything because his company wasn’t doing well and he wanted to run away with his young lover – Anne’s next door neighbour. (REALLY?) Anne and Marco get the baby back. Anne goes to see her next-door neighbour and talks to her. She tells Anne during and argument that Richard should have killed the baby. Anne snaps (she’s had mental issues all her life) and presumably stabs the neighbour. The End.
In my opinion, the main feature of a good thriller is the plot, and the inevitable plot twist. But here, plot twists have plot twists. In the end I almost felt like she was about to discover that:
Oh my God. I wanted to slap them all. If Lapena was aiming to create unbelievable and annoying characters, she succeeded. Who in their right mind leaves their 6-month old baby alone in the house even for a couple of minutes? As for the father – I realize he’s in financial trouble, and we hear his side of the story (I’ll get to that soon), but to hand over your child to a practical stranger?!?!?! “But he said he had a family and 3 kids. How was I supposed to know he was lying”
And now onto the second element – the writing.
Lapena decided that whenever she felt like it would benefit the reader, she would change the POV. This was presumably done for the benefit of people for whom this is their first book EVER, because a person who has ever read anything doesn’t need EVERY SINGLE THOUGHT SPELLED THE FUCK OUT. We are actually able to deduce things! We hear manic ramblings of Anne who is so messed up by postpartum depression, dissociative state and her meds that she can’t even remember what her baby wore the night she was taken. Then we hear Marco who whines about his in-laws giving him money and now suddenly not helping him, even though he says it would have been better if he had done everything on his own – well man up then, you idiot and start from scratch! Then at one or two random moments we get the detective, because without him telling us EXPLICITLY that he suspects something fishy we would never assume that, no way. And as the cherry on the top, 5 chapters before the end, we hear from Anne’s mother – just to let us know that she has been suspecting her husband all along…
We are not kindergarten children, we are readers who are capable of putting two and two together without getting a yule log.
A writer should not assume their readers are idjts!
As luck would have it, I have just started a buddy-read with nicoll – we’re reading a book by Arturo Pérez-Reverte in which he never once underestimated the intellectual capacity of his reader. He actually makes you think about what’s going on, and doesn’t just hand you everything. And the joy of a good thriller is your journey to discovering who did it. You want to chase the leads together with the detective or the narrator and try to get there first. Here you are led there by your hand as a toddler.
It is ironic (is that the right word, or am I hitting an Alanis Morissette moment) that the author takes better care of babies (readers) than the main characters do.