Not a Happy Family by Shari Lapena is a murder mystery steeped with morally gray characters. It’s hard to tell who did it when everyone has motive and opportunity.
Not a Happy Family
Fred Merton was not a nice guy especially to his three kids. He sells his business rather than leave it to his son, Dan, who has worked hard there all his adult life. He dismisses his youngest daughter Jenna’s art as trashy. To his daughter Catherine, he decides to sell the house she had hoped to live in one day.
It’s no wonder he was murdered along with his wife.
Fred is stabbed multiple times while Sheila, his wife, is strangled. All three kids plus the housekeeper were there for Easter dinner two days before their bodies were discovered.
But it’s Fred’s nosy sister, Audrey, who will ask all the questions because she’s the only one who knows Fred planned to change his will and leave half his estate to her.
I am so excited to talk about this mystery novel because the first time I tried to read it I could not connect with it. There is a huge cast of characters here, and I struggled trying to hear the voice of each of them. When I switched to the audiobook version, it all clicked.
I had this same kind of success with ensemble casts as found in Lucy Foley‘s works, so I’m not surprised it worked this time as well. But this is an important point.
If a book isn’t working for you in a certain format, mix it up. Switch to audio or change to a paperback. It may help how you take in the story.
I’m really glad I kept going with this one. Here’s why.
Twists to the Nth Degree
I read a lot in case you couldn’t tell, and I especially read a lot of mysteries and psychological thrillers. I can spot a twist faster than Instagram can change its algorithm.
Not a Happy Family had so many twists I simply stopped looking, sat back, and enjoyed the ride. This plot was more twisted than a string of licorice. Every time I thought I had someone’s motivation worked out there was another twist. Each turn kept the pace fast, and this ended up being a quick, enjoyable read.
Another piece that I enjoyed about this murder mystery novel were the clues. A pair of detectives were working the case, and with perfect synchronization, the author handed us a clue just when we were feeling settled.
There was something so scarily mundane about the timing and development of each clue. I pictured a butler at a murder mystery dinner appearing with the ringing of a gong, silver domed tray in hand. He’d lift the dome and say, “Aha! The bloody knife was found back in the knife block on the counter.”
I ate it up, every single clue that was given to us because the point was not the clues. The point was to watch the kids scramble with every new development. The psychological warfare was ripe in what was cloaked as a traditional murder mystery.
I love character-driven fiction, and the character of Fred’s sister, Audrey, made me want to run my own fingernails down a chalkboard for the relief of it.
You will love to hate this woman. Everything about her is grating. And yet Lapena gives her the biggest twist I have seen in a long time. I’ll bet you a whole quarter you’ll be rooting for her by the end of the book too.
This mystery book was fun to read, and how great is it to find a book like that? Absolutely snatch this one up if you’re looking for an enjoyable murder mystery with a solid helping of psychological suspense.