Shari Lapena doesn't need any introductions. Her psychological thrillers are making big waves.
A few years ago The Couple Next Door was collecting praise and awards around the world. Her latest novel was out just last month.
While browsing the books at Waterstones in early July, looking for a gripping thriller to read on the train, I picked up An Unwanted Guest. I liked the sinister-looking cover and a blurb on the back.
As mentioned in one of my previous book reviews, I love novels set in secluded locations, remote hotels, manor houses etc, where the characters get cut off from the outside world.
Lapena's novel could be a homage to Agatha Christie. The setting is a remote Mitchell's Inn in the Catskill Mountains.
We meet Gwen and Riley as they drive towards the inn in the white blur of snow. It was Gwen who suggested a weekend getaway and a change of scenery. Gwen works as a PR in a small firm in NYC, while Riley is a war correspondent who's just back from Afghanistan and is struggling with her inner terrors.
"A small luxury hotel deep in the country, good food, no internet, pristine nature - it's exactly what they both need".
The other guests are arriving to the inn. David Paley is a top criminal attorney, who needs a weekend without work to recharge his batteries.
Lauren and Ian seem to be a nice easy-going couple. Lauren had problems as a young teen, but she's turned her life around and found a charming partner.
Beverley's marriage to Henry is in disrepair, and she hopes a weekend away will be a start of their rejuvenated relationship. Her husband Henry, on the other hand, doesn't love her any more and already regrets coming to the remote inn.
Dana turns heads anywhere she goes. "She makes very other woman in the room feel second rate without even trying".
She is glamorous, beautiful and is happily engaged to Matthew. They are a well-heeled, successful couple.
And there's a reclusive writer Candice White who had to get away from her disabled mother to finish her manuscript. For almost two decades she eked out her living as an author of non-fiction. She is hoping her new book is going to make her a fortune.
The owner of the inn and his son are very welcoming, but due to the snow storm, they are understaffed and overwhelmed.
In the morning the first body is found at the bottom of the stairs, seemingly an accident.
The guests are trapped in the inn, as the snow storm rages outside. Nobody can get in or out, the power is cut off, and they cannot call for help.
As we slowly begin to know the guests better, it's clear they all have skeletons in the closet.
Any of them might be the killer who for some reason gets their revenge on the unsuspecting victims.
Or is there an outsider who managed to sneak into the inn?
There are plenty of red herrings, with some of the plotlines bringing you nowhere (in fact, I had wondered why some of them were uncovered for our attention at all). The killer's reasoning is not very convincing, and as the backstory is revealed almost at the end, there were hardly any clues to the identity of the killer.
An Unwanted Guest has menacing frightening undertones of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L.Sayers and P.D.James. This is an atmospheric page turner, the twist at the end will make you shift uncomfortably in your chair.