Looking for a locked room mystery with a Knives Out vibe? Shari Lapena’s newest, Not Your Happy Family, delivers delicious suspense and an irresistible puzzle-box style mystery. And highlights how not to spend Easter. The Mercer family patriarch is a self-made multimillionaire and also kind of a psychopath. He pits his (now grown) children against one another and tears into their weaknesses for sport. His high-achieving eldest daughter (Catherine) can’t conceive? Let’s make her feel nice and small about it. His youngest (Jenna) is a floundering artist? Let’s threaten to withdraw financial support. His son (Dan) stands to take over the robotics business? Let’s sell it out from under him. Nice man, you get the drift. So when Fred and Sheila Mercer end up brutally murdered after a particularly contentious Easter dinner, the question isn’t who had a motive. They all did.
The question is also not if we feel sorry for the Mercers (okay, for Sheila, we do)… because Fred, seriously, he had it coming. How do the kids feel? Happy that they’re getting their significant inheritance early, especially when they find out that their father was about to change his will (and not in their favor). But they’ve also just become the prime suspects. Catherine, Dan, and Jenna’s lives are now under a microscope; when they all have secrets they want to remain hidden. When their alibis are wobbly at best, and one of them might well be the killer because psychopathy appears to run in the family. But more people stood to gain from the Mercer’s deaths, like housekeeper Irena.
You will suspect everyone. I did. You won’t know who to trust. And with the psychopathy vein running through the narrative, Not a Happy Family has both elements of a psychological thriller (unreliable narrators, suspicious behavior) and a classic murder mystery. The police are out to convict, and the investigation is a central plot element (murder mystery). The result is glorious and will keep you turning those pages. You (probably) won’t feel sorry for Fred Mercer and might find yourself (unknowingly) rooting for the killer. Lapena has masterfully painted in shades of gray here. Her characters are multi-layered and often guilty of morally questionable activities. Even so, we reserve judgment… until the chilling end. A brilliant addition to the cast is Fred’s nosy sister (Audrey), who feels cheated out of her windfall now that her brother never got to change his will and launches an obsessive offensive against Fred’s kids. This was my first Shari Lapena, and I’ll now be greedily exploring her backlist.
Book: Not a Happy Family
Published: Bantam Press
Publication Date: July 27th, 2021
Penguin Random House kindly sent me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion, rating, or the content of my review.