‘A Stranger in the House’ has strong plot


“A Stranger in the House: a Novel” (Pamela Dorman Books, Viking), by Shari Lapena

In her second thriller, Shari Lapena poses the question: How well do you know your spouse?  It’s not exactly a new story device, but Lapena’s fresh approach makes it seem original in “A Stranger in the House.”

While the novel is plot-heavy, the characters are more sketches than fully fleshed-out people.  No character is likable or worth rooting for, but the redemption is that Lapena makes them interesting, keeping the reader invested in what happens next.

Karen Krupp is left with a bad concussion after crashing her car into a pole while fleeing from an abandoned restaurant in a sketchy neighborhood in a town in upstate New York.  She claims she has no memory of what happened, and her doctors acknowledge that this could happen, but add that she might regain her memory.

Police surmise that Karen may have something to do with a man found shot to death in the empty restaurant.  Karen’s husband, Tom, is at a loss at what to believe.  Karen’s accident, and the fact that she left that night without her purse or cellphone, are out of character for his normally calm, organized wife.  Tom begins to wonder just how well he knows Karen.  She never talks about her background and her family, and she appears to have only one friend, Brigid Cruikshank, who lives across the street.  But Brigid is hardly the caring friend, spending most of her day in front of her living room window watching the comings and goings of the Krupps, consumed with jealousy over their life.

Lapena keeps the well-developed twists churning, with each a surprise notch in this ever-evolving plot, and she continues this skillful storytelling until the stunning twist at the end.  But it’s hard to connect with the cold Karen, the naive, almost vapid Tom or the creepy Brigid.

Lapena’s excellent debut, “The Couple Next Door,” melded plot with character for a unique look at a missing child case.  In “A Stranger in the House,” Lapena’s characters are indeed strangers, forgettable as soon as the reader has finished.  But the strong plot of “A Stranger in the House” is quite memorable. (AP)