Book review: ‘The Couple Next Door’ by Shari Lapena


The Contis lived in a condo that abutted the Stillwells’. They had gotten together regularly with the Stillwells before Cora had been born. Since then, Ann Conti had devoted most of her time to the baby. On this night, though, Ann had given in and agreed with her husband, Marco, to spend the evening next door to celebrate Graham Stillwell’s birthday. Using a baby monitor, they kept regular tabs on the sleeping Cora and took turns checking on her each half hour. Now it was 1 o’clock and time to go. Marco didn’t seem quite so sure and left Cynthia Stillwell’s attention only reluctantly to go home with his wife. By now, all concerned had drunk quite a lot.

The first thing Ann did was to rush up to Cora’s room to check on her. The crib was empty! She screamed and Marco came running. Disbelief: a 3-month baby cannot be out of her crib. Even so, they searched the house before calling the police. Detective Rasbach arrived with a full complement of policemen; a late-night search of the neighborhood was undertaken while Detective Rasbach questioned the parents. While Ann and Marco were initially fearful of what people would think about them leaving their infant home alone, soon the dread of what might have happened to her took control. There was no hiding the fact that they had been drinking. Even in that condition, it seemed as though the detective’s questions were directed toward what they might have done to or with the baby. Why wasn’t he actually trying to find the Cora?

A forensics team scoured the house and the garage in back to no avail. Cadaver dogs were brought in to check if Cora had been killed before she had disappeared. That apparently hadn’t happened. Ann had called and asked her parents to come over and lend support. She was an only child, and her mother and stepfather were often called upon in this role. They had money and were willing to use it to make sure their daughter was happy. Actually, her mother had the money, but her stepfather seemed to be tasked with deciding how it was used. And quite often that was to support Ann and Marco. The parents had invested in Marco’s business expansion.

It was soon apparent that Marco and Ann’s stepfather, Richard, did not like one another. That aside, valuable time was passing, and they seemed no closer to finding Cora. While Detective Rasbach still believed it was likely the parents were at fault, increasingly it appeared that a kidnapping had taken place. If so, why hadn’t they been contacted? And then they were, not by the tapped phone, but a package came in the mail. The package contained Cora’s onesie and a note: $5 million and no police. Ann’s parents had previously agreed to fund a ransom. They loved Cora, too.

Marco was adamant that no police be involved; Cora’s welfare was too important to risk. He would take the money to the remote exchange site. While he was on his way, the reader learns that Marco has played a part in the kidnapping. His intent is to divide the ransom with his co-conspirator and bring Cora home. His half of the money will put much-needed capital into his business. Arriving at the exchange site, he quickly gets out of the car, locks the money in the trunk, and goes into the shed. Cora’s car seat is there with her blanket over it, but Cora is not. Marco has little time to adjust before he is hit on the head and knocked unconscious. He awakes later to find his trunk open, the money gone and still no Cora. What has he done?

There is much more to this story; why not find out what?




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