"Someone We Know" by Shari Lapena
The first neighborhood in which I ever owned a home was... rowdy.
A single street starting what would become a sprawling collection of upper middle class, new construction homes, it contained only a small collection of residents, ranging in age from 23 — me, the youngest — to maybe 40.
Enthusiastic about our neighborhood, which was so new it actually still had a new house smell, we initially socialized heavily. Almost on the weekly, we would visit each others’ houses and drink until the bar was empty.
But then, the intrigue started.
First, it was the typical — and ignorable — personality conflicts.
Next, a few feuds — likely regarding lawn maintenance as there is always much drama in well-manicured neighborhoods regarding the state of the yard.
Then it was the intraneighborhood extramarital affair — which resulted in a rather memorable end to an Edward 40 Hands Party.
Because this was the first neighborhood I ever called home as an adult, I didn’t know that all of this was atypical.
Now, aged over a decade and transplanted into a decidedly less robust neighborhood, I realize that this is most definitely not the norm.
I now know that, though neighborhood intrigue commonly exists, it is rarely as out in the open as it was in Brookhaven.
It's usually hidden and secretive. Bubbling beneath the surface as everyone tries to maintain the appearances of having it all together.
Such was the case in Someone We Know, the newest effort by bestselling author Shari Lapena
Living in a quiet, relatively affluent neighborhood in upstate New York, Olivia has grown accustomed to — and become quite good at — keeping up appearances.
But when she discovers that her son, Raleigh, has been breaking into people’s houses and going through their computers, she’s faced with a situation she doesn’t feel comfortable keeping under wraps.
Her conscience compels her to march him right up to the front doors of the homes he violated and insist that he apologize.
Before she can actually do anything, though, her husband hears of the transgressions she’s discovered and insists that she not move forward with her plan.
If she does, he argues, she will expose their son to legal trouble and, potentially, derail his whole future. Not wanting to literally ruin her son’s whole fucking life, she agrees to keep the matter private.
But, though she agrees, her guilt continues to eat at her. She finally decides to leave anonymous letters at the houses Raleigh says he broke in to, satiating her hunger to make amends without putting her son in a bad position — or so she thinks.
Complicating matters, at about this same time a resident of the neighborhood goes missing.
When his wife Amanda doesn’t come home from a planned girls’ weekend, Richard grows worried and reports her absence to the police.
As is often the case — because we live in a world where husbands kill their wives pretty ridiculously regularly — the police turn their attention to him.
With both news of the disappearance and rumors of surreptitious break-ins running rampant through the neighborhood — as rumors have a way of doing — everyone is on edge.
Both the innocent and the guilty lay waiting for the truth to come out and justice to be served.
A master at building a large cast of distinctive voices, Lapena's works — especially of recent — reminds me of Agatha Christie's mysteries, each rife with potential victims and compelling suspects.
Lapena somehow manages to build these large casts seemingly effortlessly, presenting character after character in a way that makes it easy for readers to keep track of them. To her credit, despite the breadth of her cast, she developed most of the characters fairly well, taking them beyond rough pencil sketches and building them into real, likable — or hatable — people.
Another characteristic that Lapena fans will find is also present in this newest work is her spartan writing style.
In general, her prose lacks the floweriness that I often enjoy and isn’t what you would call lyrical. Oddly, while I would usually call this a weakness, I'm not sure it is, here.
For whatever reason, this writing style works beautifully in this novel.
It's not fussy or complicated.
It's not overly verbose or rambly.
It, like the mystery itself, is clean.
To the point.
Using her distinctive prose, Lapena showed us what happened in this neighborhood — to these residents. She composed incredibly effective, inarguably engaging, scenes. Scenes that were sensational enough to shock but ordinary enough that you could imagine yourself in them.
I found this novel unnerved not because it contained overblown, overly gory situations — although, there were some gore — but instead because the calm, quiet terror presented could realistically seep into anyone's real life.
For the vast majority of this book, I expected it to land near the top of my best of the year list.
Then… the ending happened.
And the wheels fell off the cart.
As much as at pains me to say it, as is all too often the case, the ending of this book was...well... a bit of a mess.
I had devoured this novel, chapter after chapter, so eager to reach what I was sure would be an amazingly satisfying ending.
But, it wasn’t.
As I approached the end of the novel, the pacing — which had up to that point been so spot-on — completely derailed.
Throughout the whole novel, the police had just been plodding along, finding next to nothing to help them determine what happened to Amanda — the missing neighbor. But then, within the course of ten fucking pages they went from having only the most tenuous idea what happened to knowing, with absolute confidence, how she had met her end.
This new found certainty wasn’t the result of the discovery of some new evidence. There was no smoking gun. Instead, it felt almost as if they had intuited the answer which seemed false and forced and oh-so-unbelievable.
Though I found the ending really, woefully unsatisfying, I simply can’t discount the relative strength of the rest of the novel.
I do think that this is a book that fans of thrillers in general, and Lapena in particular, will devour.
All things considered, Lapena was successful in weaving a Desperate Housewives-esque tale of domestic intrigue that scorched through a neighborhood, leaving no resident unsinged.
This literary depiction of where I oh-so-don’t want to live earns 4 out of 5 cocktails.
How much drama is there in your neighborhood? Is it full of intrigue like the one Lapena depicted in this novel or, instead, (probably pleasantly) bland? Tell me about it in the comments, below.
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