Book Review: A Stranger in the House

“A Stranger in the House” is Canadian author, Shari Lapena’s, fourth novel. It tells the story of Karen Krupp, who got into a car accident after, as witnesses have claimed, she fled from home unexpectedly.  Her husband, Tom, was confounded upon learning of his wife’s tragedy and started having doubts as to why Karen fled from their home in haste. Tom knew his wife so well that he could never piece together why Karen was said to have rushed out like hell, left her purse, failed to lock the doors on her way out, and for having driven recklessly, running red lights in a deprived part of town. He claimed that her actions were very unlikely of her. To make matters worse, Karen became a person of interest in a murder case that presumably occurred that same night.

Karen may have survived the accident but it gave her a concussion which resulted in temporary amnesia.  She could not remember the events that happened prior to and during the car accident. The police detectives handling the case were dubious thinking how convenient it was for Karen to feign amnesia so she could avoid being questioned.

Without much evidence to indict her, Karen returned home.  But things started to change drastically as Tom began questioning Karen’s innocence.  Karen also started to sense that someone had been turning things around in their house.   Tom was also questioned where he was the night his wife had the accident. He revealed that he was supposed to meet their neighbor, Brigid, who asked to see Tom by the river only she didn’t show up.  Brigid had wanted to talk to Tom about a strange man who had been snooping around their house the morning of the accident. She further recounted that when she asked who he was, the man replied that he was an old friend of Karen from another life.  

The trail leading to the investigation slowly revealed dark secrets of Karen’s and Tom’s past.  Karen found out that Tom had a prior relationship with her best friend and neighbor, Brigid. By the same token, Tom was astonished upon learning that his wife had a prior life as a legally married woman who faked her death to escape her abusive husband. The husband as it turned out, was Robert Traynor, the same man who was murdered the night of Karen’s accident. All evidence led to Karen as the suspect, to which her best friend, Brigid, was excited about. It turned out that Brigid’s marriage to her husband Bob had long been lifeless and her secret affair with Tom was the only thing that brought her back to life. Brigid found answers to her depressing life the moment she started seeing Tom.  She had felt lonely and unaccounted for by her husband, and the failed fertility treatments didn’t help either. When Tom ended their affair, Brigid just couldn’t accept it. Tom and Karen’s almost perfect marriage ignited Brigid’s jealousy and hatred all the more. It had been Brigid’s desire all along for Tom and Karen’s marriage to end. Karen’s predicament could not have come at a better time.  

Brigid then got things rolling by confessing to Tom the reason why she failed to show up at their meeting place by the river. She told Tom that she followed Karen the night she left the house in a hurry.  Karen’s actions were odd which brought Brigid to tail Karen up until the restaurant where Robert Traynor’s body was found. Brigid further narrated that she saw Karen wearing pink rubber gloves and was carrying a gun then walked towards the rear part of the restaurant.  She then heard three gunshots then saw Karen leave the building as if escaping towards her car. By the time Karen had left, Brigid went inside and found the dead man. Tom was astonished and Brigid took note of his fears that Brigid being a witness would incriminate Karen. Brigid blackmailed Tom that the only way to silence her was for him to sleep with her.  But Brigid’s plans didn’t end there. Brigid sent an anonymous tip to the police to search the Krupp’s house for the missing murder weapon. The police did a thorough search of the house and evidently found the missing gun in the garage that was used to kill Robert Traynor. It was Brigid who apparently planted the gun in the garage to implicate Karen.

Karen and Tom were shocked upon learning that the gun was found at their place when it wasn’t even there when the police first searched their house.  Karen claimed how unlikely that she would hide the gun where she lives. Pieces of the puzzle started falling into place as Karen finally arrived at the conclusion that it was Brigid who had been the stranger in their house all along.  That Brigid’s jealousy escalated to obsession. That it was Brigid who killed Robert Traynor. And that Brigid carefully laid out her plans so she could frame Karen to finally have Tom all to herself. Karen turned to Detective Rasbach, confessing that she had her memory back and narrated what she believed happened the night of the murder.

Detective Rasbach was dubious. He still thinks that Karen killed Robert Traynor and her claim that her memory had returned was so sudden and coincidental.  Nevertheless, he summoned for Brigid due to evidences implicating her. Brigid admitted to the fact that she indeed followed Karen, heard the gunshots and saw her left the murder spot in haste.  But Brigid denied killing Robert Traynor. Brigid was also suspected for having planted the murder weapon at the Krupp’s house. Detective Rasbach exposed that her fingerprints were found in several areas in the house as well as on the public phone that was used to send the anonymous tip to search the Krupp’s home for the gun. Brigid was flabbergasted and demanded her right to a lawyer.

The case against both Karen and Brigid was dismissed by the DA since both accused claimed the other as the murderer and that there was no viable way to convict either one.  Everything went back to normal as if nothing had happened. Karen and Tom resumed their lives as husband and wife but it was later revealed that Karen’s memory completely returned.  The truth stripped Karen of who she really was. There was no truth to her being a battered wife. Robert Traynor did not abuse her as she claimed.  Karen was aware of Robert’s money-laundering rackets, stole from him more than $2 million dollars, and faked her suicide so Robert could no longer pursue her for what she did to him. Karen started a whole new life as Karen Fairfield. She knew that Robert may soon find out she was alive but when it comes to that, she already has her defense ready. It was when Karen received that unexpected call from Robert that she knew she was found out. Karen grabbed her pink rubber gloves and her illegally purchased gun and sped off to where Robert was. Face to face with Robert, she had no intention of killing him. His death should not have happened had he not attacked Karen who fired the gun on impulse – a defiant act of self-defense. Her accident was the result of her miscalculation and emotional turmoil but had Brigid not been at the right place at the right time, she knew she would have been implicated. Karen looks forward to spending the money she stole from her first husband to start things over with Tom.  The novel also unveiled that Brigid was furious over everything. She loathed Karen for what she did to her, for having gotten away with murder, and mostly for having humiliated her. But Brigid was biding her time. Everything will fall into place soon as it was revealed that she was pregnant and Tom was the father.

The plot is engaging and the readers will be surely be drawn to find out if Karen Krupp was the murderer or if it was somebody else.  Several novels were written having domestic violence as the core motivation and it will come as no surprise that usually in the end, the wife really did kill the husband out of fear or revenge.  “A Stranger in the House” is no different but what sets this novel apart is that most readers could not have seen it coming that Karen wasn’t really a victim of domestic abuse. That she was indeed an ambitious woman capable of a lot of things. Karen was described as nobody’s victim. She was quoted as “the kind of woman from whom men need to be protected”. The author has woven strong female characters but had also created halfwitted images of her male characters. Tom Krupp’s character embodied a flawed and gullible man that I find repulsive. It puts me off that he consented to Brigid’s sexual advances to protect Karen which by the way, was very sleazy and unjustifiable.  I also noticed the lack of idiomatic richness in most of the dialogues especially the vocal exchanges between Rasbach and Jennings. At some point, Rasbach was portrayed as cunning and smart but his conversations with Jennings appeared farcical. I also find the writing guilty of repetition – how the author presented the characters’ thoughts over and over. It was mentioned several times throughout the novel how Tom loved his wife, how he could not believe Karen could have done this or that, and how Karen’s actions were unlikely of her. It appears that the author could have underestimated the intellect of the readers that the need to justify the characters’ behaviors had to be mentioned several times. Other than the flaws mentioned, the novel still managed to capture my interest but not adequate enough to linger.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Author: Shari Lapena

Genre: Mystery & Suspense

Length: 314 pages

Publisher: Penguin Books

ISBN-10: 073522112X

ISBN-13: 978-0735221123

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