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Deals: Shari Lapeña’s debut thriller hits a nerve with international publishers

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Shari Lapena (photo: Joy von Tiedemann)

Shari Lapeña (photo: Joy von Tiedemann)

The continued popularity of domestic thrillers, stoked in recent years by novels like Gone Girl and Girl on the Train, has been good for Toronto author Shari Lapeña, who is receiving unexpected international interest in her forth­coming take on the genre.

The Couple Next Door, due this summer, has already sold to publishers in 23 territories, including Mondadori in Italy, Bastei Lübbe in Germany, Presses de la Cite in France, and AST in Russia. English-language editions will appear from Transworld in the U.K., Pamela Dorman Books/Viking in the U.S., and Doubleday in Canada.
“I’ve never had a novel that sold this many territories this quickly,” says Helen Heller, Lapeña’s literary agent. “The book really hit a nerve. We have multi-publisher auctions just about everywhere.”

Lapeña’s book follows a young couple whose child is kidnapped from its crib while they are attending a dinner party at the home of their seemingly friendly next-door neighbours. As police investigate the incident, unexpected secrets come to light. Beyond that, the author isn’t giving much away: “We don’t want to say too much except that it’s a page-turner,” she says.

Doubleday Canada associate publisher Amy Black was an early reader of the manuscript, which led to Penguin Random House Canada president and publisher Kristin Cochrane and editor Bhavna Chauhan acquiring Canadian rights to the book from Pamela Dorman Books, which holds rights in North America.

“We see a lot of manuscripts, especially in the domestic-suspense genre right now. The Couple Next Door immediately felt different,” Chauhan says. “I think part of the success internationally is the tense, taut writing and story Shari created, all centered around a worst-nightmare scenario. There’s a can’t-look-away element to it that, in Shari’s hands, makes for a really terrific, edgy story.”

Despite the critical success of Lapeña’s first two novels – Things Go Flying and Happiness Economics were shortlisted for a Sunburst Literary Award and a Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, respectively – this is Lapeña’s first time dealing with overseas rights.

“I couldn’t be more pleased. I’m in shock still. It’s the sort of thing you read about happening to someone else,” she says. “You don’t expect things to take off like that.”