Domestic noir is all about giving us a peak behind the curtain at someone else’s life and Lapena’s portrayal of Anne and Marco’s relationship is what really makes this book stand out for us. On the surface they’re the perfect couple; beautiful house, gorgeous new baby, Anne in a successful career that she loves and Marco a self-made business man. But as the grief at their missing baby applies pressure to both of them, huge cracks in their marriage begin to appear, all of which could be seen as motive behind baby Cora’s disappearance.
Anne is suffering from post-partum depression and has a history of scary blackouts that do little to remove suspicion from her. As her mental health deteriorates under her grief and the suspicion of the police, she even starts to doubt her own innocence. Could she have hurt her baby and blacked it out? Was she still breathing the last time she checked on her? Meanwhile Marco’s business hasn’t been going as well as he’d like people to think. A few clients have failed to pay and he’s in serious danger of going under. Could he have been desperate enough to ransom his own daughter?
As well as taking us straight into the heart of this troubled marriage as it starts to break down, Lapena introduces Detective Rasbach who is responsible for getting to the bottom of what’s going on here. Shrewd and unemotional, Rasbach takes a cynical approach to the couple that we hope haven’t hurt their child, and his presence in their home in the aftermath of the disappearance creates a claustrophobic and tense atmosphere. Those looking for a police procedural will find themselves out of luck here however, as this is a book of deceit and domestic drama. Rasbach offers only an experienced eye on a missing child case and not the leader of an adrenaline-fuelled investigation. At times he can feel a bit flat, but we were so wrapped up in Anne and Marco driving the narrative forward that it didn’t seem to matter.
Although domestic noir and the premise of dark secrets behind closed doors has been popular in crime fiction this year, The Couple Next Door’s all-knowing narrator allows it to stand out from the pack. Lapena does not leave us at the mercy of unreliable first-person narrators, but gives us insight into each of her characters in a controlled present-tense narrative that keeps you hungry to know more. It’s a refreshing approach that also leaves us with hope that the strong bond between Anne and Marco might just keep them together against the odds.
By the end of the book you’ll feel dizzy with revelations and twists, frantically hoping for the return of baby Cora and eager to see those responsible get their comeuppance. You’ll know more about Anne and Marco than most know about their closest friends, and the change in their relationship is the real highlight of this thriller and absolutely the reason we think you should read it!
Our verdict: Get comfortable, have snacks on stand-by and cancel all plans before reading this book; you won’t want to put it down until the very end!