A Stranger in the House

Image of A Stranger in the House: A Novel
Release Date: 
August 14, 2017
Pamela Dorman Books
Reviewed by: 

Karen Krupp loves Tom, her husband of almost two years. They live in a well-appointed house in an upper-middle-class neighborhood in New York. Meticulous almost to the point of being obsessive, Karen takes pride in all she does. Her home is spotless, her cooking is perfection, and she always obeys the law.

Tom, an accountant, looks forward to being with his wife after a hard day's work. He still can't believe his fortune to be married to Karen and be blissfully happy. One night he is puzzled upon returning home and finding the front door ajar. He calls for Karen, but the house is empty. A search leaves him a bit frantic. Her car is gone, though her purse and cell phone remain behind, and their dinner is left half prepared in the kitchen.

A call to friends offers no hope, so Tom dials 911, even though he understands the police will no doubt brush him off. Karen hasn't been missing 24 hours, and she is an adult, free to go as she pleases. Tom realizes this behavior is atypical of Karen. She would never act like this.

Within minutes the doorbell rings surprising Tom upon seeing two detectives on the steps. He can't fathom they would answer his call so quickly, but by the look on their faces, Tom senses something is terribly wrong. They inform Tom that Karen has been in a terrible accident and is in the hospital. The strange thing, this happened in a seedy part of town. Why was Karen there and at night?

Tom rushes to Karen's bedside, distraught and confused. He, along with the authorities need answers. Unfortunately, Karen cannot remember anything about the incident. Tom remains with her as she recovers, hoping she can explain her actions.

Not long after, a corpse is discovered in an abandoned restaurant in the area where Karen crashed. The man shot three times is left with no identification or personal effects. The police are stymied, wondering if Karen knows this man and if he was the reason she was nearby.

Tom is dazed, confounded, and speculative about Karen. Does he really know who she is? Brigid, Karen's neighbor who lives across the street, is a constant presence, offering assistance and comfort to Karen and Tom. Brigid presses Karen for information, but is unsuccessful, which frustrates her. How can Karen say she's her best friend when she won't divulge anything? Did Karen have anything to do with the dead man? Questions abound, and the cops dig deeper determined to pin the murder on Karen.

The author manages to catch the attention through the many twists and turns in the plot, yet the writing proves somewhat pedestrian. The characters are not well developed, and there is more "telling" than "showing" in this novel. An example of this is when Tom searches his home trying to find clues as to what Karen is secreting from him:

"Then Tom had done two things. He'd searched online for a local criminal lawyer and made an appointment. And then he'd torn the house apart . . .

"The kitchen had taken the longest. He felt through the cereal boxes, the bags of flour, rice, sugar—anything that wasn't sealed. He took everything out of the every cupboard and drawers and looked all the way in the back. He felt unseen surfaces for anything that might be affixed to them. He looked at the top shelves of closets, under the rugs and mattresses, inside suitcases and seldom-worn boots and shoes. He went down to the basement, breathing in the musty air and waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dimmer light."

The reader is caught up in the drama of the scheme which carries this story. More in-depth retrospective for every player is needed, distinguishing them from each other as well as allowing one's imagination to evolve throughout the manuscript rather than describing things step-by-step as they unfurl. With this one negative in mind, the overall scenario of this book proves to be exciting right up until the unexpected and shocking conclusion.