“We can’t choose the strangers we meet.
As the guests arrive at beautiful, remote Mitchell’s Inn, they’re all looking forward to a relaxing weekend deep in the forest, miles from anywhere. They watch their fellow guests with interest, from a polite distance.
Usually we can avoid the people who make us nervous, make us afraid.
With a violent storm raging, the group finds itself completely cut off from the outside world. Nobody can get in – or out. And then the first body is found . . . and the horrifying truth comes to light. There’s a killer among them – and nowhere to run.
Until we find ourselves in a situation we can’t escape. Trapped.”
As soon as I plucked this book off the shelf in the supermarket and read the blurb, I knew I had to read it so I spirited it home and started it immediately. I read it in one sitting, as I simply could not put it down.
The ‘trapped in a remote house which you can’t leave with a killer on the loose’ is a favourite trope in suspense fiction but it’s popular for a reason, it is a really compelling premise. What would you do if you were stuck somewhere remote and could not escape from a rampaging killer? Until recently, I would have thought that it was all too convenient. Is there anywhere so remote that you can’t get a phone signal these days? However, having just spent a week on a writing retreat in a remote part of Shropshire where there was no phone signal, at the top of a hill that could easily be cut off in bad weather with 17 people I’d never met before, I can see this could actually happen. In fact, the first night we were all sat there in the lounge, introducing ourselves, it felt like it could be the start of an Agatha Christie novel. Later in the week as I was walking after dinner in the quiet woods around the house when there was rusting in the undergrowth. It turned out to be a fox but at the time I wondered, if someone jumped out of the bushes and strangled me, how long would it take the others to realise I was missing and what would they do? (The perennial ‘what if’ that is grist to the mill of the writer’s mind). This recent experience made the book all the more chilling.
The book is peopled with an interesting cast of characters. the first few chapters did feel a tiny bit contrived, as the author had to introduce all the people who were staying at the remote hotel before she could get to the meat of the story, but they were sufficiently interesting, and the set up was intriguing enough for me to not let this bother me too much and once this was past, I was totally engrossed. The pace then moves fast enough to keep you turning the pages to find out – what next, what next?
I thought she did a great job of switching the initially perfect-seeming setting of a charming and elegant old hotel high in the Catskills into something suddenly menacing and sinister (if you can get past the location of the Catskills which, for me, immediately conjures images of Kellermans and I suspect always will!). The abrupt switch of the cosy and welcoming to hostile and dangerous accentuates the creepy horror of the story as the murders start to happen and I was on the edge of my seat for most of the book. The knowledge that one of these normal-seeming people is a killer is fascinating, and we start looking for clues as to who it could be in the individual personalities and behaviours.
Shari is very adept at slowly revealing aspects of the different personalities and drip feeding in tiny bits of information about them, small clues, gradually revealing the secrets they have all been keeping from each other in a way that is designed to keep you reading and it is completely effective. These people morph before our eyes from what they appeared to be at the start to what they truly are by the end of the book. As well as a great thriller, it is also a fascinating exploration of human nature and relationships, how we hide things about ourselves from even those closest to us. We are left with the question – can you ever really know another person?
The final reveal of the killer was a surprise and it felt a bit to me like the end of an episode of Midsomer Murders; the murderer is the person you least expect and the method and reasoning is so convoluted that you would never have guessed it in a million years and you wonder how you missed all the clues. Which is why I love Midsomer Murders so much. I need to read this book again, knowing whodunnit, to see if I can spot the clues the second time around. A re-read for me is the ultimate sign of a good book.
An Unwanted Guest is out now and you can buy a copy here.
About the Author
Shari Lapena worked as a lawyer and as an English teacher before writing fiction. Her debut thriller, The Couple Next Door, was a global bestseller. Her second thriller, A Stranger in the House, has been a Sunday Times and New York Timesbestseller. Her third book, An Unwanted Guest, is out in 2018.
Connect with Shari:
Facebook: Shari Lapena
Goodreads: Shari Lapena