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AN UNWANTED GUEST by Shari Lapena: Book Review

Shari Lapena’s new novel, An Unwanted Guest, works perfectly as both an homage to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and as a totally original mystery.  It’s a terrific novel that will keep you guessing until the end.

A group of people, including several singles and three couples, one married and two not, make their way through a snowstorm to Michael’s Inn, a lovely small hotel situated at the end of a lonely road in New York’s Catskill Mountains.  Most of the guests are looking for a relaxing weekend away from work and family stress, although the only married couple among them has a different agenda.  The marriage of Beverly and Henry Sullivan is currently not a happy one, and Beverly has arranged what she hopes will be a romantic time away to start anew; unfortunately for her, Henry’s view of their upcoming stay is quite different.

The Inn’s other guests include Riley, a journalist back from covering the war in Afghanistan, and Gwen, her former college roommate who hopes the weekend will calm her friend’s PTSD; an engaged couple, Dana and Matthew, almost too gorgeous to be real; Candice, an author feverishly working on a new book; David, an attorney with a difficult past; and Lauren and Ian, two people hoping that this weekend will lead to a permanent relationship.  And then there is James, the owner of the Inn, and his twenty-something son Bradley.

Even during the first evening tension is in the air.  In addition to the Sullivans’ marital issues and Gwen’s worry about Riley’s drinking and anxiety, there is the question of David’s arrest for the murder of his wife and his subsequent release, which not surprisingly he would rather not discuss, and Candice’s guilt about leaving her ailing mother in order to work on her writing.

But the guests are making an effort to smooth everything over and enjoy their time at the Inn.  During the night, however, several people hear what they think is a scream, but they manage to convince themselves it’s part of a dream and do not investigate.  In the morning, however, reality strikes–the dead body of Dana, Matthew’s beautiful fiancé, is found crumpled at the foot of the elegant curving staircase.

Initially her death appears to be a tragic accident, although David, with his legal expertise, seems wary of the situation from the beginning.  Everyone’s first thought is to contact the police, but a glance out the windows shows an ice-covered scene with an obviously impassible road.  And there’s no way to call the police anyway, as the Inn boasts of not having Wi-Fi, cell phones are not permitted, and there is no electricity due to downed power lines.  Luckily there is plenty of food and drink available, so it appears they will simply have to wait a few hours or even a day to contact the outside world.  But then a second death convinces everyone that the first was not an accident and that there may be a killer in their midst.

Shari Lapena’s book is a suspenseful, well-written thriller, with carefully drawn characters, a taut plot, and an extra twist at the end that I, for one, did not see coming.  Everyone at Michael’s Inn has a secret, but who is willing to kill to protect it?

You can read more about Shari Lapena at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.