4 star

Review: Not a Happy Family by Shari Lapena

In this family, everyone is keeping secrets–especially the dead. Brecken Hill in upstate New York is an expensive place to live. You have to be rich to have a house there. And they don’t come much richer than Fred and Sheila Merton. But even all their money can’t protect them when a killer comes to call. The Mertons are brutally murdered the night after an Easter Dinner with their three adult kids. Who, of course, are devastated.

Or are they? They each stand to inherit millions. They were never a happy family, thanks to their capricious father and neglectful mother, but perhaps one of them is more disturbed than anyone knew. Did one of them snap after that dreadful evening? Or was it someone else that night who crept in with the worst of intentions? It must be. After all, if one of your siblings was a psychopath, you’d know.

Another Shari Lapena review! Although the previous books I’ve read by her weren’t my all-time favourites, she always delivered when it came to the suspense, and this book was no different. Of her novels that I’ve read so far, this one was so far my favourite. The elements of mystery and psychological suspense were well executed and I was wondering until the very very end what happened.

Not a Happy Family revolves around a very familiar plot. Two high status rich parents are murdered in cold blood, with three children who stand to gain a substantial inheritance. Was it a mere robbery gone wrong? Or is there something much more sinister at play? With a whole melange of suspicious characters without alibis, just who is telling the truth? Told through the POVs of almost all the characters (and even the detectives), Lapena takes us through a riveting whodunnit with twists and turns galore, all the way to its exciting finish.

The suspense. Oh, the suspense. I really do truly enjoy psychological thrillers, and this book really delivered on that driving suspense that made me speed through the whole book in like one day. It is a very quick read, and there is suspense all the way until the very last page (possibly beyond it), and if you are the type to enjoy this kind of whodunnit, I highly recommend this.

The characters were all very human and “not a happy family” is an understatement for this novel. The more and more that is revealed about the past through the different characters, the more twisted and confusing the scenario becomes. There were a lot of themes of family (dysfunctional or functional) and I found it interesting how it was used to weave in further suspense. Everyone had something to gain (or lose) from the deaths of the Mertons, and I found that weaving together the detectives’ POV as well as the main suspects was really well executed here.

The writing style consists of a lot of short and simple sentences. I know some may be adverse to this kind of writing, but for this kind of fast-paced story, I found it to be quite effective. It really gave a sense of chilling, and it didn’t elaborate on much more than the basic facts, adding to the suspense and lack of knowledge. Even though we are privy to both the investigation and the thoughts of the main characters, we are still partially kept in the dark. This, along with the short chapters and sentences, really helped to create a sense that the story was moving very quickly.

The ending was overall fairly satisfying. For me it was nothing mind-blowing or exceedingly complicated, but it delivered a satisfactory ending that tied things up well and didn’t leave it to some divine intervention out of nowhere. I would say the ending itself isn’t an integral part, but rather it is the whole journey of suspense that was worth reading through. If you are the type to be reading such books for purely its thrilling element, I can absolutely recommend this one. The plot and twists really played with my brain all the way to the end.

Overall Recommendations

Not a Happy Family is a classic story of rich parents dying under suspicious circumstances, leaving their beneficiaries a ton of wealth. Was there foul play? Every child had a motive, and none have a solid alibi. Just who was the perpetrator behind this violent killing? Told through the POVs of everyone involved, everyone is not as they seem. Will the truth come out? Or will all the suspects walk free richer than they ever dreamed? Find out in this exciting, fast-paced, psychological thriller from Shari Lapena!

2 thoughts on “Review: Not a Happy Family by Shari Lapena”

    1. I’m trying to get through a bunch of her other books just so that I can confirm that it is my general favourite! Stay tuned haha


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