THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR, BY SHARI LAPENA. (2016) BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

couple next door

THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR. (2016) WRITTEN BY SHARI LAPENA. PUBLISHED BY TRANSWORLD.

BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is a pretty damn good effort for a debut thriller, lol. Mind you, the lady was a lawyer and an English teacher before she started writing fiction, so she probably had a good hefty head start on most writers.

This is the story of an American marriage that was possibly shaky to begin with, but on the night that the story kicks off, something happens that puts the marriage under more strain than it was ever intended to withstand.

Marco Conti and his wife Anne’s baby daughter Cora is kidnapped on a night when, to their eternal shame, they’ve left her alone to attend a dinner party with the couple next door.

True, they’ve brought the baby monitor with them (audio only, no visuals; someone clearly screwed up there) and they’re taking it in turns to pop back and forth to the house to check on her every half hour, but still, what kind of parent does that…?

The awful thing (well, next to Cora’s being kidnapped, of course!) is that Anne doesn’t even want to be at the neighbours’ cruddy dinner party in the first place. The husband, Graham, is a nonentity who doesn’t utter a syllable throughout the book, and the wife, horny sexpot Cynthia Stillwell, spends the whole evening flirting her ass off with Marco who, somewhat understandably, is flattered and responds in kind to her attentions.

After all, Anne is taking antidepressants for her post-natal depression, she’s down in the dumps all the time, she feels ‘fat and unattractive’ compared to the trashy Cynthia and she’s probably experienced an almost total loss of libido after the birth of her baby as well.

Who could blame Marco for responding to Sexy Cynthia’s brazen advances, her blatant invitation to kiss and have a bit of an old grope and a feel out on the back patio while Anne is at home giving Cora her last breast-feed of the night? He probably hasn’t had sex in months, the poor love. Yes, I’m being sarcastic, lol. The prick.

Anyway, when the couple eventually arrive home from the horrible dinner party, both tipsy and frustrated, albeit in different ways, their baby girl Cora is gone from her cot. Anne immediately begins to blame Marco, as he was the one who persuaded her that Cora would be just fine without a babysitter just this once. Oh, he was, was he…? Marco’s looking better and better as a husband by the minute, isn’t he?

Enter the taciturn Detective Rasbach, so taciturn, in fact, that we never find out anything at all about his personal life, like whether his wife divorced him because he was never at home and was married to the job, or if he’s a weekend dad and his kids are all screwed up because their dad always put his work before his family, stuff like that.

In any case, it’s this Detective Rasbach’s job to unravel this complicated case and try to find out what’s happened to poor little Cora Conti. Was she taken by an opportunist, who just happened to be passing by on the one night that Cora was home alone? Unlikely, but not impossible.

Was it a kidnapping for ransom, as Anne’s parents Alice and Richard are filthy, and I do mean filthy, rich? Or, more likely in Rasbach’s hard-bitten detective’s mind, have either of her parents done away with Baby Cora for some reason and staged a phoney kidnapping to cover up their nefarious actions?

It’s often the parents in cases like this, just as, when a woman goes missing or is murdered, the first port of call for the police is usually the husband or boyfriend. It’s nothing to do with police discrimination; it’s simply that the solution to cases like this is frequently found close to home.

After all, Anne has post-natal depression and a strange history of violent actions dating back to her school days, and Marco’s software business is in terrible financial trouble. Their marriage seems like it was rocky even before the taking of Baby Cora, and relations between them since the kidnapping have reached rock-bottom.

I’m getting back into reading psychological thrillers like this one (they call them, I believe, domestic noir), provided that they’re written by women and contain only the minimum of police intrusion and guns, etc.

I like good, tightly-written domestic plots like this one, about bad marriages, unfaithful husbands (or wives) with seedy, sleazy sexual perversions and women struggling to balance motherhood with marriage and with work outside the home, a difficult (t)ask even in so-called ‘ideal’ circumstances.

I’m very much looking forward to reading whatever Shari Lapena does next. THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR is right up my street, but I’m kind of glad the Contis and the Stillwells don’t inhabit my street too. They wouldn’t make for very good neighbours, and I certainly wouldn’t ask them to babysit my young ‘uns…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

STEVEN SPIELBERG’S ‘DUEL.’ (1971) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

duel dennis weaver

DUEL. (1971) BASED ON A STORY BY RICHARD MATHESON. DIRECTED BY STEVEN SPIELBERG. STARRING DENNIS WEAVER, LUCILLE BENSON, EDDIE FIRESTONE AND CAREY LOFTIN.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This fantastic little thriller is every bit as much a horror movie as the famous director’s later blockbuster film, JAWS, in which a monstrous killer shark is literally stalking the waters off the island of Amity, a popular tourist destination, and its destruction is left to one man.

If you’ve seen photos of a ridiculously young and handsome Steven Spielberg during the making of DUEL, you’ll have seen that he looks like a moody director of French New Wave movies in which marriages fail and complex relationships become ever more entwined, lol. So moody, so handsome, and all before he’d filmed so much as a single reel of film featuring a velociraptor with a mind of its own. (‘Clever girl…!’)

DUEL, Steven Spielberg’s debut film, is the deceptively simple story of an ordinary man, anonymously called Dave Mann, a salesman who is travelling down the highway in his car one sunny day to meet with a prospective client before the client jumps in a plane and flies away out of reach.

We see Mann driving out of his garage, we hear the mindless chatter of the chat shows on the car radio as he drives along and we see the city traffic thinning out as Mann reaches those long stretches of isolated out-of-town American highway where the long arm of the law seems conspicuous by its absence, and where, therefore, all kinds of lawlessness can be tolerated.

It happens slowly at first. A monster truck, like one of the trucks from Stephen King’s MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE, gradually intrudes itself on Mann’s consciousness. First it’s behind him, tailgating him to the point of being uncomfortable, then it’s ahead of him but moving aggravatingly slowly. ‘I’ve given you the highway, Jack, why don’t you take it…?’

Mann eventually realises that the anonymous truck driver, of whom we only see glimpses- an arm out the window, usually, or a sighting of a pair of cowboy boots- has actual harmful intentions towards him. The driver waves him on ahead at one point, to Mann’s relief, and Mann takes him up on his offer, only to drive straight out into the path of an oncoming vehicle. From this point onwards, a state of war exists between Mann and the truck driver.

Mann’s emotions range from triumphant elation when he wins a schoolboyish victory over the truck driver to absolute blind terror when he sees that the truck driver wants him dead, and seemingly has no problem with destroying other people’s property or maybe even lives in order to do it.

The psychological tension is ramped ever upwards as Mann desperately tries to explain his predicament to the few people he meets on the highway, but no-one believes him. They all think he’s the crazy one; for example, when the truck driver actually helps the broken-down school bus, whereas Mann just comes across to the school bus driver as someone who has a bit of a screw loose. It’s so unfair, but poor Mann just can’t seem to catch a break.

I love the scene at the diner, where we’re absolutely convinced that we’ve met the real truck driver having his lunch, but then it turns out not to be him. The scene at the roadside petrol station and snake farm after the truck driver has cut a murderous swathe through it all is chaotically spellbinding. Poor Mr. Mann with a tarantula on his trouser leg…! Talk about things can always get worse…

The viewers know by now that they are witnessing a fight to the death. Even Mann probably knows this by now, just like Chief Brody in JAWS is more than likely aware too that either he’s going to kill that massive, man-eating shark or the shark is going to kill him. There can be no other in-betweeny endings. Kill or be killed, that’s how primeval and elemental these two life-or-death struggles are. Mann is Brody and Brody is Mann. God help that truck-driving shark, that’s all I can say…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

CRUCIBLE OF HORROR. (1971) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Crucilbe-Horror-1000-06

CRUCIBLE OF HORROR. (1971) DIRECTED BY VIKTORS RITELIS. STARRING MICHAEL GOUGH, SIMON GOUGH, JANE GURNEY AND YVONNE MITCHELL.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This psychological horror-thriller, also known as THE CORPSE and THE VELVET HOUSE, is a really dark film, and the darkest starring role Hammer actor Michael Gough (DRACULA, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA) probably ever had. He plays Walter Eastwood, a wealthy middle-aged financier who’s the very model of a prim and proper English businessman of the period.

He discusses stocks and shares and reads the financial news over breakfast with his son Rupert, who works alongside him in the family insurance firm. He likes listening to classical music and going hunting with his posh friends. He loves his guns. ‘Who touched my guns?’ His accent is pure cut-glass British toff and his behaviour, I am sure, is circumspect in every particular but one.

To his terrorised wife Edith, an artist, and his beautiful teenage daughter Jane, he is a monster. He controls their every move and watches them like a hawk, even going so far as to read their mail right in front of them. He controls the purse-strings too and gives Jane no pocket money whatsoever, which assures that her friends tire of her quickly as she never has any money of her own to pay her way.

Worse than this, however, he abuses Edith and Jane physically in the most savage of ways, whipping them with his riding crop when they fail to measure up to his exacting standards, which seems to be often.

Early on in the film, he whips Jane brutally for stealing the kitty from his precious golf-club, which she probably only pinched in the first place because he never gives her any money of her own to hang out with her friends, of whom he naturally disapproves anyway. What’s she meant to do?

Jane is a real looker and Walter’s whipping of her in her bedroom definitely seems to have a strong sexualised element to it. Even if he hasn’t raped her or misused her sexually before, he certainly seems obsessed with her and gets enjoyment from chastising her physically.

It will transpire later in the film that Edith, who seems so brutalised from her husband’s ill-treatment that she has become languid, vague and spaced-out (she will almost certainly be taking prescription sleeping pills and/or tranquilisers), has given the works of the Marquis de Sade to Jane to read. In order, presumably, to make Jane understand why her father behaves towards her the way he does.

Both women seem to have him pegged pretty much correctly as a sexual sadist. If I were Jane, I’d keep my bedroom door permanently locked, although it doesn’t seem like Walter Eastwood is the kind of man to permit his women-folk to lock him out in his own house. He thinks nothing of barging in when Jane is only half-dressed, either, although maybe that’s exactly the state of deshabillé he’s hoping to find her in.

No support whatsoever is forthcoming from Rupert, Edith’s son and Jane’s big brother. He seems to enjoy witnessing his father’s savage sarcasm and controlling behaviour towards Edith and Jane, and one wonders whether he will take his father’s place as the dominant male figure in the family when his father grows too old- or too dead- to do it.

The morning after the golf club money whipping, when poor Jane is barely able to walk from the severity of the injuries inflicted upon her, Mum whispers to her daughter once the men have taken leave of the breakfast table: ‘Let’s kill him.’ It’s the only way they can both be free of Walter and his psychological, financial and physical cruelty…

This bit reminds me of when Mandy and Beth Jordache in Scouser soap opera BROOKSIDE murdered Trevor Jordache in the soap in the early 1990s. Trevor, Mandy’s husband and Beth’s father, had inflicted years of brutal physical and mental abuse- and also the sexual abuse of his daughter Beth- on his little family and they were quite simply driven to the edge of despair by it.

It’s a long time ago now since this happened and even BROOKSIDE itself is now sadly defunct, but I think that Mandy and Beth decided to kill Trevor when he started sexually abusing Rachel, Beth’s younger sister. It was a bridge too far for the two women.

Either way, THE BODY UNDER THE PATIO was one of the most exciting and dramatic storylines ever attempted by a British soap opera and the part of Trevor Jordan was brilliantly played by Irish actor Bryan Murray.

I met Bryan Murray on the LUAS (our Dublin trains!) a few months ago and we had a nice chat about BROOKSIDE and he signed an autograph for me in the book I was reading at the time, which was THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY, the 2008 book by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Which was nice, as yer man says on THE FAST SHOW…!

Anyway, things get a bit messy and confusing in CRUCIBLE OF HORROR once the decision has been taken by Edith and Jane to put an end once and for all to their terrible sufferings by offing Walter Eastwood, the fountainhead of all their misery. I do love the ending, though, it’s so deliciously black and grim and hopeless!

Rupert Eastwood is played by Michael Gough’s real-life son Simon. What must have been even odder for them both is that Jane is played by Simon Gough’s real-life wife Sharon Gurney. Michael Gough as Walter Eastwood had to pretend to lust after and get turned on by whipping his very own daughter-in-law, in other words…!

There’s a very funny flashback scene which I’m quite certain was added gratuitously by the film-makers, in which a naked, dripping wet Jane is hauled out of a lake and slapped around the place by Walter for skinny-dipping. It’s not funny that Walter’s being violent, but they didn’t have to include a nudie skinny-dipping scene, it’s purely for sexy kicks, lol.

The film is based on an old French movie called LES DIABOLIQUES which, if I describe the plot of same to you guys now, would be a spoiler as to how CRUCIBLE OF HORROR pans out. I haven’t seen LES DIABOLIQUES myself yet but I intend to dig it out. It’s a French psychological thriller from 1955 directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot starring Simone Signoret, by the way.

There’s a feeling of dread throughout CRUCIBLE OF HORROR because of the dreadful quality of life handed down to Edith and Jane by the tyrannical Walter, whom I must say is the worst, most evil movie-father I’ve ever encountered. And that makes him the best in my book, lol.

I would have given the film a different title as I’m not sure to what the titular ‘crucible’ refers (unless it’s the bowl that Jane… No, wait, I’ve said too much!), but that’s only nit-picking. I loved this film. Try and see it if you can at all.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor