The name "Karen" has such a specific, unfortunate connotation in the current media that when I started reading A Stranger in the House, I felt an immediate distrust, dislike, and annoyance toward the main character. Karen - who is a generic office worker who makes dinner for her husband and is obsessed about keeping a clean house - seems unabashedly normal at first. That is, until, she gets into a horrific car accident on the "bad" side of town, rendering her in the hospital with amnesia. With no recollection of why she left the house in such a hurry - stove on, pasta water boiling, her purse and ID left behind - her husband, Tom, wonders what secrets his wife may be keeping.
The plot thickens when homicide detectives discover an unidentified body at a crime scene near the site of Karen's crash, leaving the reader continuously turning pages in hopes of solving the mystery. Is Karen involved in something larger than herself? Does she truly have amnesia, or is there more she can remember? Written in oscillating perspectives using the close third-person, Lapena does an excellent job of inhabiting the minds of her characters. Most chapters are from Karen or Tom's perspectives, but some of the story unfolds through the eyes of Detective Rasbach or Karen's neighbor/friend, Brigid.
Cloaked in uncertainty, this mystery is exactly what anyone reading a mystery novel hopes for: an exciting, suspenseful thriller with well-rounded characters whose hidden lives intersect in a variety of complex ways. I spent the summer reading this book on and off, so much so that its paperback cover is slightly warped from wet, chlorinated hands and shuffling around in my pool bag. Books that no longer look pristine have been shared and well-loved; a warped cover is perhaps the greatest cover an author can receive.