Today it is my pleasure to share my thoughts on Not A Happy Family by Shari Lapena. This is the first time I have read anything by the author but having been reassured by a friend that this book would make my own family seem a little less dysfunctional, I couldn’t wait to tuck in. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to be a part of the tour and to the publisher, Bantam Press, for the advance copy for review. Here’s what the book is all about:
About the Book
The new unputdownable thriller from the multi-million-copy bestselling author of THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR.
In this family, everyone is keeping secrets – even the dead.
In the quiet, wealthy enclave of Brecken Hill, an older couple is brutally murdered hours after a tense Easter dinner with their three adult children. Who, of course, are devastated.
Or are they? They each stand to inherit millions. They were never a happy family, thanks to their vindictive father and neglectful mother, but perhaps one of them is more disturbed than anyone knew. Did someone snap after that dreadful evening? Or did another person appear later that night with the worst of intentions? That must be what happened. After all, if one of the family were capable of something as gruesome as this, you’d know.
Yeah … This family sure have mine beat. I mean – we had some interesting discussions about money and all that when the folks passed, but thankfully it never went this far. Then again, in our case it was all natural causes and the inheritance was never really going to lead to the kind of, how should I put this, *complications* that seem to plight the Merton family. What a bunch. And I mean that in a completely derogatory, hope I never meet anyone like them kind of way. This is one Easter they won’t forget in a hurry.
This is a complex and yet completely engrossing story which looks into the difficult and twisted familial relationships of the Mertons, father Fred, mother Sheila and their three adult children, Catherine, Dan and Jenna and the extended pool of family of friends that inhabit their world. As a lesson in psychology, this would be the unit ‘Dysfunctional Families 101’, and if I’m being honest I would struggle to name one redeeming quality about any of them, with the very possible exception of the poor saps who married into the family, Ted and Lisa. Yes – at a push you could argue that the children are a product of their environment, and the more we learn about the victims, the more understandable their ultimate destiny becomes, but still … They are merciless, often cold, definitely capable of dark deeds. Shari Lapena has done a superb job of creating a kind of tension, a situation in which you may find yourself despising each person in turn and yet still be completely one hundred percent invested in the story, in needing to find out what happened. To being privy to the gossip, the speculation. The suspicion.
This is like a bit of a Netflix docu-drama, a fly on the wall look into the lives of some very twisted and potentially damaged individuals. The result of creating such a divisive and almost repulsive bunch of individuals is that the idea of guilt, and the finger of suspicion, is smashed from one person to the other like a long volley in a game of tennis. It’s hard to know exactly who might actually be the guilty party as it could literally be any of them. The more we discover courtesy of the Detectives, the more confused I found myself and the more uncertain I was about who really was behind the heinous murders. One of the children? A member of the extended family? The former Nanny turned housekeeper? Just when I thought I had a handle on what was happening, the author smashes that preconception right off the court, leaving me waiting, one the edge of my seat, for the next mighty serve. You just know there is going to be one.
This is a brilliant study in character. The murders themselves are almost secondary to the dissection of the very complicated lives of the Merton family. The book shifts in point of view between all of the children, and their Aunt, their father’s sister, in turn, and with each chapter we learn something new, some startling revelation, about the siblings and the lack of trust that exists between them, emulating the lack of trust that grows between them and the reader too. It’s very clever, very addictive and very complex plotting, keeping the reader in suspense and drip feeding new bits of vital information at just the right time. You can feel the tension ooze from the page, the pacing just right to keep you alert and to move the story on. No matter what you know, there will be a new surprise just a page turn away and whilst there is a resolution, and we do find out what really happened, it still might not be quite what you were expecting.
If you like to read a strong, family/character driven psychological thriller, full of tension and with the ability to make even the most fractured of families seem normal (and bear in mind we are talking levels of dysfunction here that even the Royals might struggle to emulate) then this book is definitely recommended. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Ellen Archer, who did a brilliant job of bring out all the nuances in the characters and the growing tension between them. I’m off now to look up more of the author’s books. She has found a new fan right here.
About the Author
Shari Lapena worked as a lawyer and as an English teacher before writing fiction. Her debut thriller, The Couple Next Door, was a global bestseller, the bestselling fiction title in the UK in 2017 and has been optioned for television. Her thrillers A Stranger in the House, An Unwanted Guest, Someone We Know and The End of Her were all Sunday Times and New York Times bestsellers.
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