Tuesday Tidbits

It being vacation time, yesterday I was asked to do something that’s usually done by a colleague who’s on holiday. It wasn’t a big deal, I just had to start a background job in our main content management system and this morning I had to finish up with some manual adaptions. I tried doing these settings but when I was done, the system didn’t let me save them. It kept giving me an error message with an object ID that I couldn’t find when I searched for it. Being an optimist (or an idiot) I tried a few times but the behaviour never changed. I tried some other fixes which didn’t work either. Then I called the only other colleague not on vacation and we looked at it together and couldn’t find anything wrong. Then I chatted with a support colleague who told me that it was a bug that only a support super user could solve. They fixed it for me, but I had wasted a couple of hours. A very annoying start to the day.

NextDoor

Yesterday I received the book for my book club in the post, just in time for me to read it. A thriller, which I feared would be a terrible but quick read. Sadly, I was right about it being awful: The Couple Next Door, by Shari Lapena. I spent a good deal of last night reading it and finished it off on my lunch break. The plot was convoluted and unlikely, the characters were flat and horrible people. There were convenient revelations and the ending was an  unnecessary dramatic gore-fest. The writing was plain and simple, mostly in present tense and with short sentences, probably to create a sense of urgency (which it succeeded in doing). The novel consists of dialogue and the characters’ thoughts and we jump from one point-of-view to the other. Nobody trusts anyone else and they all have things to hide. There weren’t any descriptions or background explanations. The narrative was like a shallow but fast rushing river. It’s probably not easy to write that way and to keep track of the plot twists, but I just didn’t like it. The paperback’s headed for the recycling bin as soon as my book club meeting is done.

Spoilers ahead – don’t continue reading if you want to read the thriller. It begins with Marco and Anna, having dinner with Cynthia and Graham, their neighbours in the terraced house next door. Marco and Anna’s baby girl, Cora, six-month-old, is sleeping at home. Marco and Anna have brought a baby phone with them and check on her every thirty minutes. When they return home at 12:30 p.m. the baby is gone. They call the police, who suspect Marco and Anna of having killed the baby. We learn that Anna has postpartum depression and has had violent episodes in her past. We learn that Marco has money worries and that he hates his father-in-law. Eventually, when the reader is just starting to believe that Marco and Anna are probably innocent after all, Marco, out of the blue, reveals (just to the reader) that he’s the one who arranged for the kidnapping of his daughter. His accomplice was supposed to share the ransom with him (and, of course, keep Cora safe), but he ends up dead and Cora disappears. In the meantime, Anna convinces herself that she had a mental breakdown during which she killed Cora and Marco is just covering for her. By and by, it turns out the father-in-law, Richard, manipulated (how is that even possible?) Marco into coming up with the kidnapping plan via his accomplice, who’s a crony of Richard’s. Richard uses the kidnapping to steal the ransom money from his rich wife, whom he is planning to leave. She owns all their money and he wouldn’t get any in case of a divorce because of their prenuptial contract. He wants to leave her because he’s having an affair with Anna’s and Marco’s nasty neighbour Cynthia. Cynthia, by the way, has filmed Marco kidnapping the baby and tries to blackmail him. We find out that Richard set Marco up to take the blame for the kidnapping, but Marco saves himself by giving evidence against Richard, who not only instigated the kidnapping but also killed his crony. He does return Cora to Anna, so we almost get a happy end, except that Anna unnecessarily confronts Cynthia and it gets gory on the last few pages.

The plot is based on the characters being stupid and/or terrible people:

  • Marco: using his own child to extort money from his in-laws and handing her over to some guy he hardly knows.
  • Annie: keeping secret her weird blackouts and slapping her baby instead of asking for help. Totally unnecessarily confronting her nasty neighbour at the end.
  • Cynthia: a creep and Graham: a pervert.
  • Richard: a sociopathic money-grabbing control freak, thinks he’s clever.
  • Alice (Richard’s wife, Annie’s mother): keeping Annie’s mental health issues secret and putting up with Richard all those years – she could have divorced him ages ago.
  • Failure to communicate: the whole thing would have been unnecessary if Marco had told Annie about his cash-flow problem. If Annie had asked for help, her mother would have supported them.

Is it possible to avoid being prosecuted for kidnapping your own daughter just because you give evidence against the person who apparently manipulated you into the plan? Seems unlikely. Also, how can you be manipulated into such an unethical deed? Ugh!

At least it was a quick read. In general, I prefer crime novels with less thrill and more likeable characters (with at least some character development and less stupidity and/or nastiness), a more believable plot and less choppy writing. Previously in the book club we’ve read Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins and The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware, both of which I also hated (especially Cabin 10 – that woman was so stupid…). Luckily, some of my fellow book-clubbers also didn’t like them and we had fun complaining about the idiocy and hatefulness of the characters… the club meetings are always amusing, even when the book selections are suboptimal. I’m looking forward to the meeting, we’ll have fun slagging the characters.

Still, it’s about time we read a good book for once (like Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer).

Keep safe, world.

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