Sunday, 29 July 2018

Book Review: AN UNWANTED GUEST by Shari Lapena

Author: Shari Lapena
Publisher: Random House UK, Transworld Publishers
Read: July 2018
Expected publication: out now

Book Description:

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.

My musings:

I love nothing more than a claustrophobic setting, so as soon as I read the premise of Lapena’s latest novel, An Unwanted Guest, I knew this would make the perfect weekend read for me!

Eight guests arrive for a weekend getaway at a quaint hotel in the Catskill Mountains, run by a father and son team. Set in a remote nature spot away from civilisation and without mobile phone or wifi, the hotel offers the perfect place to relax and leave the stresses of everyday life behind. As a snowstorm howls outside, and the roads are getting rapidly snowed in, the guests settle in for a cosy drink in front of the fire. In the morning, one of them will be dead. Without electricity, phone reception or a way out, the remaining guests find themselves at the mercy of a ruthless killer – has a stranger made it into the building, or is the murderer in their midst? As the body count rises, the group of strangers must fight for their survival – and not everyone will make it out alive.

I confess that I simply loved the setting of An Unwanted Guest! Lapena does an excellent job in creating the perfect atmosphere for murder: the initial cosy warmth of an old-fashioned hotel set amidst a snow covered landscape, a fire burning in the grate, soft chairs inviting guests to gather in the hotel lobby as they look forward to a weekend of relaxation. It all sounded so idyllic! Until the blizzard cuts off electricity and the roads become impassable, confining people indoors. Suddenly, the snow is not so pretty anymore as the wind howls around the building, ice covered branches of trees becoming missiles, the fire in the grate barely giving off enough warmth to escape the brutal winter cold. The chill and the fear become so palpable that it even invaded my own cosy living room and a shiver ran down my spine!

One by one the guests are being killed off and there is no way out. The novel was reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s locked door mystery And Then There Were None with a modern setting. Here, we also have a bunch of characters who each have a dark secret in their past. None of them are particularly likeable, and by getting glimpses of each person’s thoughts through multiple POVs, each and every one of them could potentially be the murderer. As the group is confined indoors due to the inclement weather, the former idyllic setting soon turns into your worst nightmare, the hotel becomes a death trap, and personalities clash and shatter under the strain. Lapena knows how to build tension, and when my bathroom door slammed in the wind whilst reading this I nearly fell out of bed with fright, my heart rate rocketing up to 200 and my muscles aching with the adrenaline rush!

Lapena has a very distinctive writing style that never looks too deeply into any of her characters’ psyches. Whilst we get to see some of their thoughts, I never felt like I was truly getting close to any of them, which in this case worked quite well, as it allowed me to consider each and every one of them as a suspect. I felt that Lapena really came into her own with this novel, using her unique voice to its fullest potential, which made this tense whodunit a definite favourite out of all her books for me. Whilst I normally prefer novels where I can get a bit deeper into the characters’ minds and have someone to root for, in this case I appreciated and enjoyed the fast pace and unrelenting tension of this classic whodunit. Its chilly atmosphere totally absorbed me and I sat up late into the night until I finished it. Recommended as the perfect weekend or getaway read!

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House UK for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.


  1. A fantastic murder mystery that kept me guessing, and easily my favourite of her books. It has such a timeless quality to it.

    1. I totally agree - it is my favourite by the author as well. I love these kinds of closed door mysteries!