Book Review – Not a Happy Family by Shari Lapena

Not a Happy Family revolves around a rich couple, Fred and Sheila Merton, and their adult children.

Since Fred is a big Mr. Meany Pants and there’s a lot of money in the will, everyone is suspect when Fred & Sheila are brutally murdered. It’s a classic whodunnit.

One factor that kept my mind distracted during the first part of Not a Happy Family was keeping track of the sheer mass of the cast of characters. Holy shamoly, there are a lot of people here.

  • Fred Merton, the rich, mean patriarch
  • Sheila Merton, the diminutive matriarch
  • Catherine, their dutiful adult daughter
  • Ted, Catherine’s supportive husband
  • Dan, the angry, languishing son
  • Lisa, Dan’s increasingly worried wife
  • Jenna, the rebellious artist daughter
  • Jake, Jenna’s hunky boyfriend
  • Irena, the longtime keeper of the house (and of secrets?)
  • Detectives Reyes and Barr
  • Aunt Audrey, Fred’s scheming, money hungry sister
  • Ellen Cutter, Audrey’s BFF and Fred’s former assistant
  • Rose Cutter, Ellen’s daughter
  • Walter temple, the Merton Family lawyer
  • Caroline Temple, Walter’s wife and Sheila’s friend

The mystery adds layers of doubt to each of the family members.

The family members are all dirty. They all have dark secrets. And they all seem perfectly capable of murder. The Mertons are not a happy family, indeed.

Meanwhile, each of the family members’ significant others is becoming increasingly horrified. Each person sees the cracks, the ugliness beneath the veneer, and wonders, “Who the hell did I marry?”

Ultimately, the mystery isn’t satisfactorily solved. After all of the buildup and speculation, the answer is presented matter of factly. We already have a motive for each family member, so we get no additional reason for the murders or any revelation of secrets. 

It’s kind of a letdown. Instead of getting a big reveal, Lapena waits until the end of the book and effectively says, “It was X. The end.”

The rest of the book is wonderfully head-scratching. But it’s almost as if the author loses steam at the end and decides it’s time just to wrap it all up. She could have thrown anyone’s name in there, and it would have had the same effect. 

Not a Happy Family
Shari Lapena
Published July 2021
Pamela Dorman Books


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