Marco and Anne Contis have been invited to their neighbours for a dinner party to celebrate Graham’s fortieth birthday. His wife Cynthia had specifically said she wanted an adults only evening so the Contis’ have booked the babysitter for the evening. But the poor girl’s grandmother is ill and she has to cancel. So the pair go for dinner, leaving baby Cora asleep and take the baby monitor. As an extra safety measure they also take it in turns to visit every half an hour to check on her. As the evening goes on and Marco is reluctant to leave they finally get home to the front door ajar and baby Cora nowhere to be seen.
I put off reading this book because I was worried I’d be so caught up in the parent’s decision to leave the baby that I wouldn’t be able to see beyond that. What happened was that there was obviously so much more subtlety to the story than that, although of course at the obligatory media conference where Marco begged for their baby’s return, the press seized on that aspect of the evening.
There is a bit of everything in this book, from post-natal depression; from class divisons borne of Anne’s wealthy background to Marco’s apparent unsuitability as a husband and don’t let us even touch on Anne’s superior step-father who signs off any loan or gift despite the money belonging to her mother. For all of the background to the marriage this doesn’t appear to be a case of Marco being in the marriage for the money, the pair were devoted until Anne struggled after Cora’s birth, he genuinely admired her way with client’s at the art gallery she worked at, and he was similarly committed to making a go of his company, but there are secrets, some bigger than others and Cora’s disappearance meant that these start spilling out from, and in all, directions.
Shari Lapena has created a plot driven book which is liberally sprinkled with red herrings. I went into this book with a fair idea how it would all unfold, more so after the end of the first chapter. By the second chapter my views had changed; fear not I had a whole new theory which I was sure was right… and then we got to the third chapter. I persevered in this manner until about half-way through the book when I decided that I didn’t know what the hell had happened, no theory fit the scenario and all the bits of information were making the situation worse, not better! Alongside the plotting this book unfolds at a fearsome pace – although for Anne and Marco time is going slowly without Cora, for the reader so much happens in such a short space of time that I seriously though weeks must have passed by the time we reached twenty-four hours into the story.
Not only is this book one that is well-plotted and swiftly paced, it also allows me to ask my favourite question ‘What would I do?’ As I mentioned in my first sentence when I first read the synopsis about a couple left their baby alone, I thought I wouldn’t be able to get past that but on reading the book, while it is true that is what happened, the choice was far more nuanced than that and took into an array of other issues, just like real life in fact. So yes, it was a stupid decision but not quite as idiotic as I initially imagined. This led me to ask more questions along the way based upon the characters and the decisions they made which for me is the sign of a good psychological thriller.
I’d like to thank the publishers Random House UK for giving me a copy of The Couple Next Door which was published 14 July 2016, this unbiased review is my thanks to them.