REVIEW: NOT A HAPPY FAMILY, BY SHARI LAPENA

Brecken Hill in upstate New York is an expensive place to live. You have to be rich to have a house there, and Fred and Sheila Merton certainly are rich. But even all their money can’t protect them when a killer comes to call. The Mertons are brutally murdered after a fraught 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 vindictive father and neglectful mother, but perhaps one of the siblings is more disturbed than anyone knew. Did someone snap after that dreadful evening? Or did another person appear later that night with the worst of intentions? That must be what happened. After all, if one of the family were capable of something as gruesome as this, you’d know.

 

Not a Happy Family drew me in immediately, with the vicious murder and the motives that could point to several different people, but the target seems to stay on the backs of the three adult children.

Between them, there are alibis that may or may not be valid, but an absence of real evidence to point to any one of them keeps the detectives circling the potential perpetrators. Soon the target shifts to others, as more and more people who had reason to want the Mertons dead show up, several of whom are about to inherit some amount of money from them.

In the end, I was stunned as the details of what actually happened fell into place, and I then realized that the answer was no big surprise. Definitely a five star read.

***

REVIEW: THE HEIRS, BY SUSAN RIEGER

 

Six months after Rupert Falkes dies, leaving a grieving widow and five adult sons, an unknown woman sues his estate, claiming she had two sons by him. The Falkes brothers are pitched into turmoil, at once missing their father and feeling betrayed by him. In disconcerting contrast, their mother, Eleanor, is cool and calm, showing preternatural composure.

Eleanor and Rupert had made an admirable life together — Eleanor with her sly wit and generosity, Rupert with his ambition and English charm — and they were proud of their handsome, talented sons: Harry, a brash law professor; Will, a savvy Hollywood agent; Sam, an astute doctor and scientific researcher; Jack, a jazz trumpet prodigy; Tom, a public-spirited federal prosecutor. The brothers see their identity and success as inextricably tied to family loyalty – a loyalty they always believed their father shared. Struggling to reclaim their identity, the brothers find Eleanor’s sympathy toward the woman and her sons confounding. Widowhood has let her cast off the rigid propriety of her stifling upbringing, and the brothers begin to question whether they knew either of their parents at all.

My Thoughts: In a non-linear style, the reader learns more about the Falkes family and some of their friends. Dipping into the past, moving forward, and then centering on the issues of the present, The Heirs feels like an in-depth portrait of a family and an era. The back and forth offers an opportunity to learn more about the characters and how they came to be…but at times, the writing style felt like a detached listing of events. Abrupt, dry, and matter-of-fact in its portrayals.

Set in Manhattan, primarily, at the beginning of the 21st Century, we come to learn about the lives of a family, punctuated by the dramatic events. As with most families, there are conflicts…and I thought it was interesting how we slowly learn traits of the grown Falkes sons, as they each face the current dilemma: Harry is a “blurter,” coming out with whatever he is thinking, with no filter. Will tries to be the amiable one, and Sam, the middle child, seems to be neutral about most issues…until suddenly, he seems to rebel. Jack is described as the obnoxious one…and Tom, the baby, has often required looking after by the others.

How they each react to the potential interlopers, the two other putative sons from a different mother, tells us a lot about their characters.

We also learn more about the dynamics of the family members as we see glimpses of the past. I liked learning more about Rupert, about how he met Eleanor, but we also catch a glimpse of his relationship with Vera, the woman who sues the estate. Was he the father of her two sons? Or was there more to the story? A few more surprises pop up along the way, with an ending that left some more questions in a satisfying way. 4 stars.***