Thriller Thursday Audio: Not A Happy Family by Shari Lapena
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Suspense
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Penguin Audio (July 27, 2021)
Length: 9 hrs and 11 mins
Narrator: Ellen Archer
Shari Lepena’s mystery thriller novels are always a ton of fun, and Not A Happy Family is a whodunit that will definitely keep you guessing. At the center of this story is the Merton family. Fred is the patriarch, who founded a highly successful robotics company that made him rich. He’s also a cold man who has never shown much love for his children, and in fact, he delights in humiliating them every chance he gets by pointing out their failures. His wife Sheila is mostly a passive bystander, powerless to stop this cruel treatment. Oldest daughter Catherine is the one who has been spared the brunt of Fred’s wrath, growing up to become a respected and well-to-do doctor. Middle child Dan, however, is the least favorite, and his father’s greatest disappointment. Even youngest daughter Jenna, the rebellious artist who still lives off her parents seems to catch more slack than she should.
As the book begins, the Mertons are just about to begin their Easter dinner at Fred and Sheila’s home located in their swanky neighborhood of Brecken Hill in upstate New York. Catherine, Dan, and Jenna have all brought their significant others, and also present is Irena, the Merton’s housekeeper, who practically raised the kids. Everyone sits down to a lavish meal, but unfortunately, it isn’t long before Fred unleashes his mean streak. Catherine, who has always dreamed of inheriting her parents’ gorgeous multimillion dollar mansion, feels the rug pulled out from under her as her father informs them all that he has decided to sell the house. He had already sold his company six months ago to spite Dan, denying his son the chance of ever taking over one day. Jenna is also threatened with the cutting off of her financial support. All in all, everyone leaves the house that night in frustration and rage.
Then a few days later, Fred and Sheila are found brutally murdered in their home. While it was made to appear like a burglary gone wrong, the police don’t buy it. They suspect one of the three Merton children, who now stand to inherit millions. All of them also have a reason to want to kill Fred, a psychopath who was so awful to them, and Sheila, who was neglectful and let the abuse happen. Fred also has a sister, Audrey, who claims that her brother had been planning on changing his will to bequeath her half his wealth, leaving Catherine, Dan, and Jenna to squabble over the rest. Audrey believes that one of the Merton children must have found out about his plans and decided to kill him before they could be carried out, but at this point, with all these hidden motives and secrets flying around, anyone could be the killer.
The way the plot unfolds is pretty standard, via a tried-and-true formula, but there’s a reason why stories like this work so well, and why they are so successful. Readers get to follow along with the police as they interview all the family members and their friends involved, bringing to light their financial troubles, odd behaviors, and other reasons that would make you suspect all of them at some point. As the POVs switch between the different characters, we also find out more about the Mertons’ backgrounds and Fred’s past history, all of which are clues that make up the available evidence. Of course, there are also red herrings aplenty, and you can’t always trust what anyone says because as we find out early on, everyone in the Merton family is a compulsive liar.
Fans of thrillers who like to read about dysfunctional families and characters you just love to hate will also have a blast with this one. The reason why there is so much suspense surrounding this murder mystery is precisely because any of these narcissistic, greedy, and impulsive people could have done it, as they all stem from the same psychopathic gene pool. None of them are all that bright either, which also goes for the investigators who feel incompetent at times for the sake of dragging out the story.
With that said, I wouldn’t say this is Lapena at her best, and there were a few instances in the book where you would need to suspend your disbelief. Still, on the whole, I thought Not A Happy Family was a very entertaining read and will be a great treat for fans both new and old. My family listened to this novel as an audiobook on a road trip and the compulsive nature of this mystery simply made the hours and miles fly by, while we all had fun trying to guess who the killer was as each chapter and POV revealed new information. Ellen Archer’s narration was on point and made this format a fantastic way to enjoy the book.