An Unwanted Guest – Shari Lapena

an unwanted guestPublished by Pamela Dorman Books; 1st Edition edition, August 7, 2018 with 304 pages.

In a word – wow! Right from the start of this novel I had a feeling of closeness, of inclusion, of a tightknit cast of characters, and that something, something was going to happen. Even before the actual commencement of the murders to come, there is a thread of suspense. You could not have struck that chord quicker than if you had started with: “It was a dark and stormy night”, because, though it is a dark and stormy night, our cast is assembling during the day.

We are quickly introduced to the cast of characters and get to know them at a superficial level. One thing that I really liked here is that we are introduced to the characters mostly in pairings, such as; Gwen and Riley, a pair of friends on holiday; Matthew and Dana, an engaged couple, Lauren and Ian, an unmarried couple; Beverly and her husband Henry, an older couple married for several years; James and his son Bradley who own and operate the inn, and then there are two other guests unrelated to any others David and attorney who has had charges of murdering his wife dismissed due to lack of evidence, and a writer Candice who is already a guest at the inn.

In quick work the cast is snowed in with a storm outside cutting the inn off from the rest of the world, as well as its electricity. The plot moves quickly. First an apparent accident (or is it David is quick to point out) has the guests openly speculating if a murder or an accident has occurred. Then, when the second body turns up later that day, there is no doubt that homicide stalks the guests. They congregate in the inn’s ground floor lounge with a large fireplace an ample seating for the perception of protection as much as for heat.

It here, in this setting that we begin to get a more in-depth look into the lives of our characters. Everything is laid out in such a flowing narrative, there is just enough detail to give the story lift. I had a feeling of sailing through the story taking it all in and feeling the tension growing, reaching its height at the start of the final third of the story.

The mystery ends as the police are finally able to reach the inn and begin their investigation. This is what covers probably the last ten percent of the novel. The motivation for the initial murder is revealed here… it wasn’t something that could be gleaned from the story itself. But… the clues are there for the reader to determine the most likely suspect before the police arrive. David knows, but he won’t tell you till its all over, and I won’t spoil it here… you just have to read it for yourself.

The main theme here is ‘you never really know anybody’. This is wonderful, clear, straightforward writing and a masterfully crafted story… THIS is why we read mysteries!

“Henry gives this some consideration. His wife has a lot of irritating qualities, but stupidity isn’t one of them. … [he’s] learned a thing or two this weekend. He’s learned that he himself has it in him to be a killer. He finds it’s not tat big a leap, after all, to imagine anyone else as a killer either.”