Shari Lapena: ‘Welcome to Brecken Hill. It’s lovely here, at least on the surface…’
Shari Lapena, author of The Couple Next Door and The End of Her, introduces her brand new thriller, Not A Happy Family.
In Not A Happy Family, my latest thriller, I explore the twisted inner workings of a wealthy family with a lot of issues. I can’t remember where exactly the idea for this one came from. I know I wanted to look beyond a married couple to a larger family situation. I was interested in exploring the relationship among adult siblings, and the relationship between parents and their adult children, from both perspectives—parents and what they think of their grown kids, and what those kids really think of their parents—and how they have disappointed each other.
I always start with a premise, a situation—here a wealthy older couple is murdered, possibly for their money but possibly also for emotional reasons—and it seemed to offer so many possibilities to explore. Complicated family dynamics, greed, hatred, sibling rivalry, psychopathic traits—the list goes on. I think the idea of children possibly killing their parents is very interesting. Because it might not be just about the money—it might be about a lot of things. But it might not have been one of the children at all, and they are now under a microscope, and they are beginning to unravel.
There’s a lot of tension and suspicion among the Merton siblings. I know I’ve done a lot of books about distrust between married partners, and there’s some of that here, but I really wanted to delve into the sibling relationships in this book. Every family is unique, and some are more dysfunctional than others. The Merton family is very dysfunctional. The question the reader is wondering as he or she reads is, just how dysfunctional are they? Which one of them, if any of them, would be capable of such a violent act and then be able to convince the others that they didn’t do it? And there’s perhaps a silent complicity here—whoever killed the Mertons has done all of them a favour. There are patterns of behaviour among the adult children that were established when they were children, and these play out again now that they are adults under extreme circumstances. There are trust issues, resentments, and rivalries, and it’s all complicated by the fact that these aren’t completely normal people.
I had a lot of fun writing Not A Happy Family. I think it’s probably my most lurid book so far. I hope you enjoy it!