Dear “A Stranger in the House”: In praise of good suspense

Dear A Stranger in the House,

When I read your ‘sister book’, The Couple Next Door, I was struck by the effective use of red herrings, character twists and plot turns. Could this be repeated as effectively in the next book, I wondered? Happily, this was not an isolated case as A Stranger in the House is a tense thrill ride of a book that kept me engaged right until the very last word.

The characters – Tom, Karen, and Brigid – could be anyone from our own streets, and it’s unsettling to start to picture your own neighbours as one of the characters. I loved how no one was who you thought they were, and how the real-time pacing of the book slowly revealed the true heart of each person. I will say that I was intrigued more by the two female characters than by Tom, whom I found a bit frustrating. At first worried for his wife, then worried that she and the police would find out about his affair with the stalker-y neighbour, I wasn’t entirely sure that he truly loved Karen as much as he loved the ideal of her. Karen and Brigid were interesting to me as they exemplified the complexities of female friendship. On the surface they were best friends, who met regularly for coffee and shared each other’s lives. However, this relationship contained cracks, and I admired how Lapena wove their personalities into their relationship. Her ability to reveal new facets of each character as the story progressed kept me interested in finding out more.

The actual crime was extremely well laid out, and the logic behind the detective’s reasoning made sense. Probably the strongest aspect of this book lay in the crime itself – first Karen’s mysterious car crash on the wrong side of time, followed quickly by the discovery of a body not far from where Karen’s accident occurred. Each detail that emerged was like a puzzle piece, fitting into an ever-changing picture and I really enjoyed how each piece revealed another clue to what really happened.

While this book asks the question, “How well do you really know your spouse?”, it could also ask how much of our real selves do we present to others in general. Everyone in this case seems to be hiding something, and it takes the exposure of the actual crime before true selves are revealed. While the characters may be unsettling, the myriad of plot twists and sudden turns make this a compelling read that I devoured in one sitting. There are still several weeks of summer left, and this is the perfect suspenseful read to take with you to the cottage or to the beach. You won’t be left disappointed.

I’m looking forward to the next book from Shari Lapena with great anticipation.

Yours in suspense,


From the New York Times bestselling author of The Couple Next Door, a new thriller featuring a suspicious accident, a wife who can’t account for herself and unsettling questions that threaten to tear a couple apart.

You come home after a long day at work, excited to have dinner with your beautiful wife.
But when you walk through the door, you quickly realize that she’s not there.
In the kitchen, there is a pot on the stove, and vegetables on the counter, abandoned.
Her cellphone and her purse are still in the house, in the bedroom, exactly where she keeps them.
It looks like she’s left in a blind panic.
You fear the worst, so you call her friends to see if they know where she is.
Then you call the police.
The police tell you that your wife’s been in an accident. They found her in the worst part of town, after she lost control of the car while speeding through the streets. But why would she go to that neighbourhood? And why was she driving so fast? Was she running toward something? Or away from something?
The police think your wife was up to no good.
You refuse to believe it, at first.
Then, as the stories and facts don’t line up, and your wife can’t remember what happened that evening, you start to wonder. You’ve been married for two years and you thought you knew her better than anyone else in the world . . .
. . . but maybe you don’t.

A copy of A Stranger in the House was provided by the publisher Doubleday Canada in exchange for an honest review. It is available for purchase now from your favourite independent, online or bricks and mortar bookseller. ISBN: 9780385686976, 305 pages.

Wondering why I’m writing letters to books? I’ve been inspired by Annie Spence’s lovely book, Dear Fahrenheit 451. Check out my introductory post for more information.