The Power Couple by Alex Berenson

An American couple are on vacation with their teenage children in Barcelona when their daughter fails to return home one night. Her kidnapping sparks her parents memories of their marriage and leads to revelations of the cracks at the heart of their union and maybe even the reason their child was taken.

It’s a bit of a confusing description to write. Is the book about a marriage or a kidnapping? It tries to be about both. It’s structured in chunks: the holiday, the wife’s memories in flashback, the holiday, the husbands memories, the outcome. And the kidnapping parts feel like they belong in a different book than the relationship stuff. Actually, they’re both well written stories, but it just doesn’t quite work on the whole.

A key part of the failure of this mix is that moving between the two undercuts the tension and plot of the other. For example, in the plot about the kidnapping, we’re given a lot of tension, but we’ve stopped caring by the time the wife has started talking about her job in detail. Also, the structure makes you think that there’s a point to her story. She works in the FBI, so when she talks about this or that case you think, either she was instrumental in solving it (which she generally isn’t) or it has some bearing on the kidnapping perhaps (which it doesn’t), so why are we hearing about it? It means that when we’re back on the kidnapping, it feels boring because we don’t care anymore.

The nature of flashbacks mean that we are being told something we know the storyteller survived, because they are here telling us about it. So there’s no urgency there. It feels domestic and kind of anecdotal, which might be interesting in a story about a marriage, but doesn’t work well in a thriller. We know that whatever happened in the past, the couple are still together. What are the stakes of this story? It makes the book feel a little long.

It’s pretty misguided as a choice, but I think the author was reaching for something and it just didn’t work this time. Not that it might never have worked, and what is here isn’t badly written. It’s one of those things where the writer wants to break the rules of how stories work and in the process makes something that isn’t rewarding or satisfying for the reader. It was worth a try though. I would read another book by this author.

Read It If: this won’t please those who want a thriller, domestic thriller or high powered marriage story, but I think if you know what it is going in and have the patience for it’s slowness, you might enjoy this.

Thank you Simon & Schuster Canada for the ARC of this book for review. All opinions are my own honest thoughts. The Power Couple is out February 9th.

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