Book Review: A Stranger in the House

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After reading Lapena’s The Couple Next Door, I was expecting the same tightly-woven and twisty plot.  

Such was not the case (no pun intended) with this one.

Lapena is not one for sympathetic characters or happy endings, which is fine if the plot is good.  Unreliable narrators are awesome plot devices but not for mysteries because part of the fun is putting the pieces together; when the pieces don’t factor in to the puzzle at all but are rather imaginary pieces, then it’s pointless–there is no need for foreshadowing because it’s going to be a total surprise with no clues leading up to it.  In other words, everything we’ve read up until such-and-such point could be a total lie.

I agree with some other goodreads reviewers that the amnesia angle (like evil twins) is overused, but nevertheless, it’s always fun.  Lapena is obviously a fan of Hitchcock with her shades of Rear Window, but Stranger was lackluster.  

I don’t mind the immediacy of the present tense, but Lapena should brush up on comma rules.   She does more telling than she should, but there are enough scenes with dialogue that it’s forgivable.

The character of Tom was quite awful.  His initial reaction to his wife not being home (when she obviously left in a hurry) wasn’t one of worry but of anger.  Maybe he has secrets of his own.  Supposedly, Karen was in love with him (we are told this, or rather, she tells us this), but I just didn’t get that vibe.  He just happened to be a handy, cheating sap.  

Brigid was the only interesting character.  I thought it was hilarious that she hated Karen for not  caring about her knitting blog. (Karen didn’t knit and yarn didn’t really seem to be her fabric–she was more the blazer type.)  I didn’t like Brigid, yet she was the only one I felt for in the end.

I’m not sure what purpose Brigid’s husband played and why it was important that he was a funeral director/undertaker except maybe it was symbolic that because he dealt with death so much, he couldn’t possibly spark a life.  Maybe he made Brigid die inside, and that’s why she had issues, though honestly, we’re only privy to him through her warped filter.

I’d swear Lapena was a cop in another life because in her books, there are basically two kinds of people:  the guilty (where no one is completely innocent) and the cops. However, the cops only seem innocent because we don’t know anything about their personal lives (like “Dragnet”; unlike “Law and Order”).

 I liked that Rasbach was back on the case–he is definitely one I’d like to know more about but not if Lapena would do his character an injustice.  He’s almost more of an entity–a representation in human form of the right side of the law–than he is a character. He did, however, have a great idea:  get a background check done on anyone you are seriously dating.  

If Lapena could just differentiate her minor characters more–the cops and the lawyer were interchangeable when it came to personalities; there is really nothing but their names to distinguish them from one another.  

I don’t recommend this book, but neither did I feel it was a waste of time.  It was…an experience.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33984056-a-stranger-in-the-house?from_search=true

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Book Review: The Couple Next Door

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The most amazing thing about this book was that it was a great read without a single sympathetic character (the detective doesn’t count because we never get to know him).  I loved that it was written in present tense–it was almost like an extended episode of “Dragnet”/police procedural–except told from different points-of-view (though I still think writing from different points-of-view is lazy and takes some of the mystery away).

As it so often happens, I couldn’t figure out why Marco and Anne fell in love with each other, but then, this book wasn’t about that; it didn’t make you care about them as a couple–only about what happened to their baby.  The fact that these parents would leave their baby home alone (monitor or not) while at a drinking and dinner party next door, even with them going so far as to check on her every five minutes, seemed neglectful at worst and poor judgment at best.

Though I could sympathize with Anne adjusting to her new role, and though I realize not every character is a God-fearing Christian (nor would I want them to be), but the use of of g-d always hits a sour note; it never adds anything to a story but rather, it takes something away from it.   

Detective Rasbach was basically Joe Friday–a blank canvas whose whole life is police work, whose vocation is his identity.  Strangely, he was my favorite character, and I hope Lapena uses him in all her books.

Lapena did a great job in making sure there weren’t too many characters in the book, though there could’ve been more sensory details–even a sense of place.  This story seemed like it was happening anytime, anywhere, and what man, if he’s committing adultery in the twenty-first century, has a book of matches? Isn’t that so 1950’s?  And what’s with leaving the window open while your baby is sleeping? Marco and Anne are well-to-do–they have air conditioning.

The plot was an ingenious one, and the denouement was fantastic, though I think the epilogue was anticlimactic.  The author wrote what she wanted to happen rather than what would’ve made a better story.

However, this was incredibly well-done for a debut novel–a little foreshadowing would’ve made it shine.  

I look forward to more of Ms. Lapena’s works.