“True psychopaths can be very convincing...” - Shari Lapena, An Unwanted Guest
A raging storm, a hotel in the middle of nowhere and a group of complete strangers – what could possibly go wrong? Shari Lapena is the Canadian wordsmith behind my most recent read. I had heard great things about her novel, “The Couple Next Door”, which I had meant to pick up first. But the stars aligned in an alternative state, sealing my fate and letting me chance upon an abandoned copy of ‘An Unwanted Guest’ on a book swap shelf. I had to have it, so tentatively I swapped it for the book I had just happened to finish on my train ride home. Sporting a dark blue cover with an ominous, Hitchcockian feel, the title screamed out from the page with a sinister whisper from its byline, “There is no escape.” As promised by the front cover the story itself was a valiant effort and homage to the now defined and world recognized ‘whodunit’ murder mysteries that were the brainchild of critically acclaimed novelist, Agatha Christie. Lapena takes these established tropes and expertly makes them her own, maneuvering the reader into situations wholly unexpected. You are left in total suspense and biting at the bit to find out more. The real icing on the cake is the chosen location: a setting that incorporates the wondrous sublime of the Catskills during the dead of winter, further ensconcing the reader into this eerie and hair-raising story. Every single detail, no matter how seemingly minuscule, is eventually revealed as essential to solving the murder. After just the first chapter you will experience a foreboding sense in the pit of your stomach that something is not quite right. As I read through I began picturing every chapter as a scene from a black and white Robert Michum film noir: moody, dark and wholly unnerving. This novel certainly does not fall victim to a dreaded slow start, so I recommend preparing yourself from the beginning for tragedy to strike. As such, try not to get attached. The character profiles presented are vast and some of them prove to be quite endearing, whilst others fail to achieve that same level of warmth and good feeling. That said, the perpetual twists and turns you are sure to endure might leave your emotional state indubitably baffled. I desperately do not want to give much away, but I will say if you think you will be sharp witted enough to figure out who the murderer is you may want to think again. Things are certainly not as they appear. Lose yourself to the mystery and revel in the thrill of waiting for the next disaster to strike and, of course, the much anticipated unveiling. After all, it is those ‘cliché devices' that make the foundations of a truly great tour de force of that time honored category of novel: the crime thriller. If you do start reading this wonderful book, comment down below on who you think the killer might be – let us suss out the sleuths among you!
Where to read: At home in the evening, curled up with a fluffy blanket for protection from inevitable chills.
What to read it with: A hot mug of sweet tea...or a single glass of whiskey on the rocks to calm the nerves if you are that way inclined.
Make sure to check out more of Shari Lapena's work here: https://sharilapena.com/
Enjoy and until next time, Gia