Often, No Second Novel Lives Up to the First | A Stranger in the House Book Review

A Stranger in the House | a Peonies and Bees ReviewShari Lapena released her long awaited second novel, A Stranger in the House, last month. I say long awaited because her first novel, The Couple Next Door, was just so damn fantastic. I literally could not be torn away from it last October and finished it over one weekend. The Couple Next Door was fast paced, suspenseful, and though the plot was a little off the wall, it was oh so good.

Like many readers who were blown away with TCND, we all knew we’d read Lapena’s second novel, A Stranger in the House without a second thought. But let me just tell you, it was sort of painful to get through. Let me explain why…

THE PLOT

Tom comes home to an empty house. It appears his wife ran out of the house in a hurry, left her purse, cell phone, forgot to lock the doors, and was in the middle of preparing dinner. It turns out Karen was in a car accident, and wakes up in the hospital unable to remember anything about the evening, like why she left in such a hurry. Not terribly far from her accident, a man in his late thirties is found dead. After some mighty fine detective work, it turns out the two events are linked together. Maybe Karen isn’t who her husband thinks she is….

Not bad, right? You can see why readers of TCND would want to read SITH. But let’s get into why it was so grating to read.

THE CHARACTERS

None, and let me repeat, n-o-n-e of the characters are likable. What’s worse than not having any likable characters, is not getting to know any of the big players in the story. The lead detective played a very important part of this story, I felt like I barely knew him. And his partner, I don’t even remember his name, or having more than 5 sentences of dialogue.

For such an emotionally driven plot, I felt all the characters lacked a certain depth that would explain their bat shit crazy behavior. We got none of that. Which, tbt, is one of my biggest no-no’s about novels. I want to know what makes characters tick. I want to get inside their heads. And when I can’t do that, I’m quick to drop a star on GoodReads.

THE WRITING

This may be a ridiculous question, but was this novel even written by the same author? It honestly didn’t feel that way AT ALL. I got frustrated with this book many, many times. I wanted to shake some of the characters, especially Karen, who I didn’t trust from the very beginning. I was really blown away by how s-l-o-w it was, which brings me to pacing…

This book started off strong, it did! A man comes home, missing wife, turns out she’s in an accident, all good foundation blocks for a fast paced novel, right? Wrong. It took a nosedive from there. Even the last 50 pages — which usually are supposed to fly by with a similar plot — seemed to drag on.

And all of the ‘twists’ was so obvious, you could smell them a mile away. Even the very last one received a heavy eye roll from me. I don’t even know if I’d drop this novel into the suspenseful category.

THE VERDICT

I wouldn’t recommend this to you, my friends, or family. Shari Lapena is beginning to remind me of Ruth Ware. Strong first novel, weak as hell second novel. Have you read A Stranger in the House? What did you think?