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.
Review by Michael Connery
Shari Lapena’s second novel, A Stranger in the House, gives the reader a stalker thriller, a domestic noir, and a murder mystery all rolled into one immersive tale. With a fast-paced plot and narrators who are in turn unreliable, psychotic, and weak, Lapena’s latest offering is as engaging a read as her first.
The formula for the storytelling is simple, and it is a style that is a repeat of her first novel: Lapena creates a gripping read by giving the reader only scraps of information. It’s a Hansel and Gretel breadcrumb technique that keeps the reader turning the pages to find out more. In Lapena’s previous novel, that form of storytelling came across as manipulative and inauthentic to an individual’s thought process, but here, with one of the narrators suffering from amnesia, the style worked well. Even so, there was nothing shocking about the tale, though one cliché turned out to be a twist that, while unsurprising, was satisfying and disturbing.
The strength of the author’s work relies on her flawed characters and her driving plots. She is particularly talented in portraying multi-faceted women with explosive secrets. Lapena capitalizes on the themes of noir fiction: moral ambiguity and a fluidity between victim and perpetrator. While the use of present tense is jarring, it is a current trend and in this instance it created a sense of immediacy. The writing style is simplistic and unadorned, which lends itself well to the thriller genre. Around the three quarters mark, the story took a turn toward the comedically absurd that continued through the last page, and whether the humor was intended or not, it made for a gratifying, disturbing dénouement.
The style of storytelling makes for a swift, engrossing read; the plot unfolds smoothly as the reader is given more information with each chapter; and the characters are flawed, manipulative, and secretive. Chilling and disquieting, A Stranger in the House once again shows that Lapena is a new name to watch in the noir and thriller genres.
Highly recommended for fans of thrillers and domestic noir