Special Feature: Not a Happy Family by Shari Lapena

There is something about families and marriages that is a magnet for voyeurs. I know my husband and I are equally as guilty of wondering about our friends families and marriages. I think deep down people want to know how their relationships compare to others. It’s practically human nature. Whenever I see books about families and marriages I can barely pass them up!

This one was no different for me. Not only am I featuring this book this month but I also plan to read it this fall. There is something about fall and suspense/murder books that go together so I am saving it for the fall! I have really enjoyed Shari Lapena’s books and I am especially looking forward to this one. Her books are consistently well written and interesting and this one features the added drama of a wealthy family. I am fully anticipating an electrifying book that I will devour!

Today though, I have a short feature for you guys and a bit about the book below. If you are looking for a solid mystery going into the fall then this one should be high up on your list! Early reviewers are loving this one and I cannot wait to start it! Fans of Lapena will surely not be disappointed with this latest mystery novel!


In this family, everyone is keeping secrets–especially the dead. Brecken Hill in upstate New York is an expensive place to live. You have to be rich to have a house there. And they don’t come much richer than Fred and Sheila Mercer. But even all their money can’t protect them when a killer comes to call. The Mercers are brutally murdered the night after an Easter Dinner with their three adult kids. Who, of course, are devastated.

Or are they? They each stand to inherit millions. They were never a happy family, thanks to their capricious father and neglectful mother, but perhaps one of them is more disturbed than anyone knew. Did one of them snap after that dreadful evening? Or was it someone else that night who crept in with the worst of intentions? It must be. After all, if one of your siblings was a psychopath, you’d know.

Wouldn’t you? (summary from Goodreads)

True to the Lapena trademark and as she did in her international bestseller The Couple Next DoorNOT A HAPPY FAMILY has it all: toxic men, toxic women, twists, turns and red herrings. In fact, for Shari’s last book, The End of HerUSA Today warned: “Be sure to carve out enough time, because once you pick it up, you will not want to put it down.”

About the Author

Shari Lapena is the internationally bestselling author of the thrillers The Couple Next Door, A Stranger in the House, An Unwanted Guest, Someone We Know, and The End of Her, which have all been New York Times and The Sunday Times (London) bestsellers. Her books have been sold in thirty-seven territories around the world. She lives in Toronto and Not a Happy Family is her sixth thriller.

A Conversation with Shari Lapena

Author of


(Pamela Dorman Books/Viking Books; On-sale: July 27, 2021)

In Not A Happy Family, you bring to life the world of the rich and powerful and show what happens when greed, contempt, and jealousy are the characters’ motives. How did you create such despicable people?

I just make them up, and I have to say, I really enjoy writing them. You read about people like this in the news or hear about them on true crime shows. It’s fun for me to get inside their heads. I’m not sure what that says about me. The way I create character is not by writing down a set of characteristics—appearance and so on is not important to me—but by taking my characters and putting them directly into a situation of difficulty or conflict with someone else and seeing what happens—what they say and do. That’s how I get to know who they are.

Where did you get the idea for such a delicious plot and premise?

I can’t remember where the idea for this one came from. I know I wanted to look at a larger family situation than simply a married couple. I was interested in the relationship among adult siblings, and also the relationship between parents and their adult children, from both perspectives—parents who are less than ideal, and what they think of their kids, and children who are also less than ideal, and what they really think of their parents—and how they have disappointed each other.  

Did you know what the ending would look like from the beginning or did you figure it out as you wrote?

I never know the ending at the beginning. 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 just seemed to offer so many possibilities to explore complicated family dynamics and all the interesting motivations of greed, hatred, sibling rivalry, psychopathic traits and so on. I think the idea of children possibly killing their parents is very interesting. Because it’s not just about the money—it’s about a lot of things. 

There’s a lot of police procedure in the book. How did you become so well versed in it? Do you have law enforcement consultants and did you do any special research?

I’ve had to do a lot of research over the years in police procedure and forensics. I use books and the internet, and I also have a couple of experts that I rely on to run things by, mostly in the forensics end of things. Because I’m Canadian and my books are set in New York, I’ve had to research how things would be done there.

You create a wonderful dynamic of suspicion and intrigue among the three Merton siblings. How did you develop this familial tension?

That is what I was aiming for. I know I’ve done a lot of books about suspicion 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, would be capable of such a violent act and then be able to convince the others that they didn’t do it? And there are patterns of behaviour among them that have been long established, from 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. 

You often like to leave your books somewhat open-ended. The main question is always answered satisfactorily, but new questions are raised. Do you think this book offers more closure?

I know what you mean. I like the reader to be left with the feeling that the characters’ lives go on after the books is closed. When I read a book I love, I like to think about what happens after the end. So I like to leave a bit for the reader to fill in, to wonder about, but I always resolve the main question, because to not do that is to cheat the reader. I think Not A Happy Family offers a bit more closure than some of my others, but still leaves something for the reader to imagine.

You used to be a lawyer yourself. Is there a murder with a courtroom drama in your future? What’s next for you?

I love to read courtroom dramas, but I don’t think I’ll actually write a proper one, as they are very difficult procedurally. The good ones are written by lawyers who did a lot of work in court themselves—John Grisham, Scott Turow, and Steve Cavanaugh come to mind. I did that inquest in The End Of Her and I found the research for that to be quite difficult, in terms of getting the information I needed, possibly because of the different jurisdictions involved. I don’t know what’s next for me just yet. I haven’t had the next gripping idea that will propel me into a new story that just takes me with it.  But I’m sure it will happen soon, and I’m sure it will be a page turner. And, if I did know, I probably wouldn’t tell you, because I don’t like to talk about what I’m writing until it’s finished.  

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