2017 Reviews · contemporary fiction · mystery · psychological · suspense · thriller

Book Review: A Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena

Title: A Stranger in the Housea stranger in the house small.jpg

Author:  Shari Lapena

Published: July 31st 2017

Publisher: Penguin Books Australia

Pages: 320

Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Mystery, Psychological, Suspense, Thriller

RRP: $32.99

Rating: 4 stars

He looks at her, concerned. “How do you feel?” She wants to say, Terrified. Instead, she says, with a faint smile, “Glad to be home.”

Karen and Tom Krupp are happy—they’ve got a lovely home in upstate New York, they’re practically newlyweds, and they have no kids to interrupt their comfortable life together. But one day, Tom returns home to find Karen has vanished—her car’s gone and it seems she left in a rush. She even left her purse—complete with phone and ID—behind.

There’s a knock on the door—the police are there to take Tom to the hospital where his wife has been admitted. She had a car accident, and lost control as she sped through the worst part of town.

The accident has left Karen with a concussion and a few scrapes. Still, she’s mostly okay—except that she can’t remember what she was doing or where she was when she crashed. The cops think her memory loss is highly convenient, and they suspect she was up to no good.

Karen returns home with Tom, determined to heal and move on with her life. Then she realizes something’s been moved. Something’s not quite right. Someone’s been in her house. And the police won’t stop asking questions.

Because in this house, everyone’s a stranger. Everyone has something they’d rather keep hidden. Something they might even kill to keep quiet. 

My review:

Last year debut novelist Shari Lapena set the psychological domestic based thriller genre alight with her blockbuster novel, The Couple Next Door. Lapena returns to familiar territory with her second release, A Stranger in the House. Lapena’s latest novel is another marital thriller that draws on the complication of an overly intrusive neighbour to spice up the storyline.

Karen is a happily married bookkeeper and housewife of two years, living in upstate New York. One evening, Karen is involved in a horrific accident that totals her car. When Karen wakes up in hospital following the crash, she has no memory of the accident or the whole evening prior to the crash. What baffles Karen’s husband Tom and the detectives assigned to the case, is that Karen’s car was found in an unsavoury part of the local area, a location you wouldn’t expect this affluent housewife to frequent. Added to the mystery is the discovery of the body of a murdered man, found in close proximity to the crash site. With alarm bells sounding for the detectives on the case, Karen experiences a deep feeling a dread, she knows something awful happened that night her car ploughed headfirst into a pole but her memory fails her. The investigation into Karen’s accident opens old wounds, exposes secrets and rips apart the safe suburban life the Krupps have built for themselves.

Shari Lapena follows up her hugely successful first novel with a solid effort in, A Stranger in the House. Lapena is aware of the winning formula she employed for her first bestselling novel and again draws on this to produce her second novel. I enjoyed this novel as much as Lapena’s debut novel and I think it makes a great addition to the grip lit/domestic thriller genre.

Part of what makes domestic thrillers such as A Stranger in the House work, is the use of an unreliable narrator. In this book’s case, Karen, our housewife, caught up in an accident and possible murder is the source of the unreliable narration. Adding in a complication of amnesia, following Karen’s head injury from her accident, adds a further shroud of mystery to this domestic tale. With Karen’s memory returning only in fits and starts, serves to draw out the mystery and suspense aspect of the book. For this reader, it left me hanging and encouraged me to turn the pages of this novel as quickly as I was able to.

With the focus also on marital secrets, Lapena soon has the reader entangled in the web of lies engulfing this suburban couple. Tom and Karen Krupp are portrayed as quite ordinary by Lapena. Therefore, the reader is able to relate or see that this couple and the events that happen to them could happen to anyone in any street, or in any location pretty much. The added problem of a neighbour who is downright meddling contributes to more complications in this absorbing tale.

Lapena applies a shifting viewpoints style of narration to her second novel. As a result, we learn from the main couple, as well as neighbour Brigid (Karen’s best friend and Tom’s former lover). This helps cover all bases in terms of what might have happened the night of the crash. We are not entirely sure who to believe through Lapena’s set up. With a number of players involved in the investigation, the mystery element of the book is drawn out nicely. Despite the fact that a few reviewers before me have remarked that this was predictable, I enjoyed the journey I was taken on with Lapena and her characters of A Stranger in the House.

I regarded Lapena’s sense of characterisation as sound. It was a surprise to see the return of the detective from Lapena’s first novel, who added an extra layer, especially in the police groundwork involved in getting to the bottom of a complicated case. I do hope Lapena chooses to reinsert this detective figure in her future novels.

Where Lapena shines most in A Stranger in the House, is the psychology of her characters. I liked that there were obvious grey areas surrounding the key players of the book. Half the fun when interacting with this book was not just trying to solve the mystery of the car crash and the circumstances of the murdered body but the process of trying to unpack these damaged main characters. It certainly made this book far more interesting.

A Stranger in the House will unnerve you, put you on edge and lead you to question just about everybody that enters this novel. It puts forward a great unreliable narrator scenario and combines this with a fairly new marriage, placed under threat from secrets, omissions and a deadly obsession. A Stranger in the House will easily quench the thirst of those who relish the flavour of domestic thrillers.

A Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena was published on July 31st 2017 by Penguin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of A Stranger in the House, Shari Lapena, visit here.


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