Not a Happy Family by Shari Lapena
This review was delayed to near the time of year that the murder in this book took place, Easter. Even with the delay in writing this review it is hard to like this book. The author does a great job at pointing out human flaws and character weaknesses, but does not balance it out. Yes, not everyone is a good person, but reading through none of the characters seemed to have any redeeming qualities or give the reader a reason to hope they are not the murderer. In looking at this blog, it is easy to see books with happy endings and murder mysteries are typically the focus. This being a murder mystery and hearing such wonderful things about this author made for what was hopefully a good book. Writing style and writing quality are not the issue, the author is an excellent writer and story teller, but when the focus of each character is only their flaws and the dark-side of human nature it is not a book that this reader finds enjoyable. If you are looking for a book that has even a few happy moments in, this is not the book for you. Below is the list of characters and information about the plot without trying to give too much away.
Character List/Book Summary:
Fred Merton – father, murdered by being repeatedly stabbed and had his throat slit. Was cruel to his children for the sake of it and claimed to be disappointed in all of them. When his children were younger would pit them against each other and punish them for not living up to his expectations of what he wanted them to be. Refused to loan Dan money, was selling the family home so Catherine could not get the house when he died, and was going to cut Jenna’s allowance off.
Sheila Merton – mother, strangled, taking anti-anxiety meds. Told Catherine she had to talk to her about a secret, but the conversation did not happen during Easter dinner.
Irena – the cleaning lady, had worked for the Merton family for more than 30 years. Was the nanny for the three children, and knew that three kids would turn against each other instead of lean into each other when the murder was discovered. Suspected one of the children killed their parents, not sure which one.
Catherine Merton – married, but did not take her husband’s last name. Struggling to have kids, during this ordeal finds out she is pregnant. A dermatologist. Went back to the house after the dinner to talk to her mom about whatever Sheila mentioned during dinner but they did not get around to. When secrets are revealed about her dad she shuts people out.
Ted – Catherine’s husband, an only child. Does not understand the dynamics in Catherine’s family. Does not believe his wife killed her parents, but starts to wonder and the siblings throwing out accusations do not help ease his fears.
Dan Merton – has been married to Lisa for 4 years, after his father sold the family business and blacklisted Dan from getting jobs he asked his father for a loan and was rudely rejected during Easter dinner. Has some bizarre tendencies as a teenager that are surfacing again. Took an investment opportunity with Catherine’s friend Rose, which is why money is tight.
Lisa Merton – Dan’s wife, at first believes her husband could not have killed his parents. However, as the book progresses starts to have her doubts. Talks to Ted about some of the concerns.
Jenna Merton – youngest of the three children the Merton’s had. Is an artist in New York. Her violent tendencies from when she was younger are pointed out by her aunt.
Jake Brenner – Jenna is dating him to piss off her family and he agrees to cover for her about where she was the night of Easter but wants money in return.
Rose Cutter – owns her own law practice, recently found out a secret about her family history. Her deal with Dan is not what it seems and these two things impact her friendship with Catherine.
Audrey Stancik – Fred’s sister, knows that Fred killed their father when he was a teenager and tells people, including the cops, that one of the three kids killed their parents. Follows her nieces and nephews to try and find out which one killed their parents. Insists that Fred was changing the will so that none of his kids would get anything and she would get half of his millions and Sheila would get the other half. Points out only the things her nieces and nephew have done growing up that fit her picture of them all being evil and how she is the only one who truly loved her brother.