Shari Lapena returns with her third novel, An Unwanted Guest, following the unprecedented success of The Couple Next Door and A Stranger in the House.
Lapena has taken an Agatha Christie template and weaved a fast paced thriller that this reader read in less than two days when on holiday.
On a cold wintry weekend in upstate New York, strangers from varying backgrounds all descend upon the Mitchell's Inn - a remote lodge where there is not great phone signal nor wi-fi. The blizzard like conditions have led to an understaffed hotel being manned by the father and son team of James and Bradley.
From the get go, it seems a lot of people are keeping cards very close to their chest; the Christie like method of taking six to ten strangers put them in an uncomfortable situation and then let murder commence leads to the thriller taking shape before our eyes as one body appears after another in the polite atmosphere.
Lapena has crafted a winning formula perfect for these times; a thriller centred upon a mad cap 48 hours in the wilderness with the harsh reality of nature having a debilitating effect on proceedings leaving people reliant upon their wits and survival streak. Characters are dependent upon being able to connect with the outside world, yet they have tried to escape the rat race for various reasons.
These same characters are knee-jerk in their reactions and behaviour, jumping to conclusions from the defence attorney David who was arrested for murdering his wife to Candice who may or may not be writing a real fiction novel on crime.
Lapena writes with such relish the scenes of people talking in confined spaces that once the body counts starts to add up, other writers may have got lost amongst her character's own hysteria, yet Lapena never deviates from the narrative rounding things of with a denouement that is both satisfying and startling.
Some critics may suggest that the ending comes too soon, yet in these hysterical times of constant moral panics; Lapena has been deliberate in treating the characters with respect instead of mere cadavers.
An Unwanted Guest is out in Hardback from 26th July from Bantam Press.
My thanks to Transworld Publishers for the review copy.