An Unwanted Guest
Gwen Delaney may live to regret booking herself and her friend into the hotel – if she stays alive.
Mitchell’s Inn, a secluded hotel in the forest above the Hudson river, is supposed to be the backdrop for a relaxing break for long-time friends Gwen and Riley. It’s where David has decided to recharge his batteries, as have Ian and Lauren. The young engaged couple, Dana and Matthew, are here to destress before their impending wedding threatens to overwhelm them.
In Deborah’s opinion, she and Henry need to reconnect. It is why she chose Mitchell’s Inn; away from the kids, away from the world. But Henry doesn’t seem to be reading from the same book, let alone the same page. The only person using the hotel as an opportunity for a working weekend is Candice; an author with a deadline and too many words to write.
But Mitchell’s Inn is about to offer more than seclusion. As the snowstorm cuts the guests off from the outside world, and the lack of electricity provides dark corners and too many shadows, the murders begin. There is a killer amongst them. And no one knows if it is one of the guests, a member of staff, or someone who is hiding in the hotel.
A locked-door mystery. A nasty little whodunit. The stuff of my youth, and that for which Agatha Christie was, without doubt, the queen. Anyone who grew up immersed in Marple and Poirot would find it difficult not to make comparisons with modern-day mysteries, and it would be all too easy to make unfavourable assessments, particularly as there are far too many Christie rip-offs. Me included. But Shari Lapena surprised and enthralled me for an evening with her novel.
It is not without fault. Sometimes her characters’ introspections pull the reader up and out of the story; they feel clumpy and contrived, holding back critical information that the reader knows the character would think through. Often the dialogue is generic and underwhelming. But on the whole, the internal and spoken conversations help to advance the plot.
The author builds the claustrophobic atmosphere with the milieu and the violent storm. Description is unobtrusive but engenders that oppressive sense of being cut off from the outside world. Pacing is good and even. The guests’ fear is, in places, a little forced, but overall believable.
However, I didn’t feel any connection with any of the characters. None of them were likeable, despite the author’s well-executed development of many of them. They were flawed, which is as it should be, but I didn’t sense any redeeming features with which I could find any common ground. Perhaps it was the style of writing in the third person point of view that built barriers, but I was grateful the clever plot held my interest. The characters certainly didn’t.
But An Unwanted Guest is easy to read, with clever, sharp plotting that keeps the reader guessing.
Reviewed 31 January 2020 by
Kati Barr-Taylor lives in her
‘cosy pigsty’ in the Dordogne. She satisfies her literary cravings by
translating, writing, editing and reading.