First thing’s first with this novel: The Couple Next Door is a very misleading title. This book is about so much more than two people, spiralling as it does into a network of secret and lies that involves families, neighbours and criminals alike and forces the question of just who can you trust in the darkest of times.
The book opens with new parents Anne and Marco Conti enjoying a dinner party with their next door neighbours. When their babysitter cancels at the last minute, they decide to leave their baby at home while taking over the baby monitor and checking on her every half hour – after all, they’ll only be next door, what could possibly go wrong?
As it turns out, the absolute worst happens and The Couple Next Door takes a very real, very horrific premise and turns it into Marco and Anne’s twisted reality. After baby Cora is taken from her crib in the middle of the night, Anne and Marco are thrown into both a police investigation and a media storm while their already-fractured relationship suffers further under the strain of new secrets with every break in the case. With Marco’s business failing and Anne struggling to cope after Cora’s birth, the couple quickly become the main culprits in the kidnapping, but as one mystery is solved, two more takes its place and it’s not as clean-cut as just looking to the parents for answers.
This is a great, gripping novel that becomes about so much more than a kidnapped child, and while the plot itself is fairly predictable at times, with a couple of twists you can really see coming, Shari Lapena’s writing will keep your attention throughout.
Her characters, on the other hand, are a bit hit and miss. Marco is a fascinating character purely because he’s not entirely likeable. His motivations and his behaviour are incredibly skewed, but it’s what makes his segments the most interesting, trying to guess where he’s going next. Anne, on the other hand, is a bit one note. All of her segments seem to get stuck in a bit of a repetitive loop, which is a real shame considering her arc turns out to be the most interesting as we delve deeper into her past as well as the true extent of how far her postpartum depression goes.
At times I felt like The Couple Next Door had too big a cast of characters to really work with – or, more likely, too many characters that weren’t used enough. Cynthia and Graham next door played major roles in the plot, yet were underused in the narrative, appearing only to drop a revelation to the reader before disappearing for the next several chapters. Even Anne’s mother, Alice, who was present throughout remained a peripheral character until a couple of pages towards the end gave her time in the spotlight.
But despite these niggles, this novel remains a breath of fresh air, edging into the emerging subgenre of the domestic thriller and completely revolutionising it. The secrets that can exist between husband and wife are made so much more distressing and unforgivable when it puts the life of your 6-month-old child at risk, and with each new plot development placing Cora and her survival more and more out of reach, the question of who we can trust becomes infinitely more difficult to answer.
The Couple Next Door is a twisted web of lies and secrets all concerning a family and relationship on the verge of destruction; when the chips are down, you get desperate, and that’s where the true beauty of this novel lies – just how far will you go to protect your family? Or, perhaps more importantly, how far would you go to protect yourself?
The Couple Next Door is published by Bantam Press on 14 July 2016.