Review: An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

A weekend retreat at a cozy mountain lodge is supposed to be the perfect getaway . . . but when the storm hits, no one is getting away.

It’s winter in the Catskills and Mitchell’s Inn, nestled deep in the woods, is the perfect setting for a relaxing – maybe even romantic – weekend away. It boasts spacious old rooms with huge woodburning fireplaces, a well-stocked wine cellar, and opportunities for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or just curling up with a good murder mystery.

So when the weather takes a turn for the worse, and a blizzard cuts off all electricity – and all contact with the outside world – the guests settle in and try to make the best of it.

Soon, though, one of the guests turns up dead – it looks like an accident. But when a second guest dies, everyone starts to panic.

Within the snowed-in paradise, something – or someone – is picking off the guests one by one. And there’s nothing they can do but hunker down and hope they can survive the storm – and one another. (Goodreads)

※This review contains some mild spoilers: those of you who don’t want to be spoiled might not want to read any further.

When it comes to writing unlikable, unrelatable twisted characters, I cannot think of anyone but Shari Lapena. I read her two previous books “The Couple Next Door,” “A Stranger in the House,” and I enjoyed them both tremendously.
There was not a reason not to pick up her latest book, “An Unwanted Guest” and I had high hopes for it.

I’ll come straight to the verdict; this was as glorious a read as the two previous books, but I’m afraid I was a bit underwhelmed especially in the mystery department.
This is a typical whodunit mystery which takes place behind closed doors and the plot line and the settings bear a striking resemblance to the famous Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. The intro of this book, in fact, reminded me of And Then There Were None and prompted me to pick up that book simultaneously.

I’m afraid to say that was partially the reason why I felt a bit underwhelmed. I did find it interesting that those two books follow similar plot lines and settings/situations, it is actually quite ambitious that Shari Lapena penned a book that can easily compared to Agatha Christie’s book. I would never do that if I were an author, but she pulled it off marvelously if not completely; kudos to Shari Lapena.
Like I said, however, the mystery plot pales a bit in comparison to And Then There Were None. In my eyes, this An Unwanted Guest is more character-driven, focusing heavily on weaving the character arcs than the former. As is often the case with Shari Lapena’s books, the characters in this book are all flawed and carry dark luggage from the past. Some are trying to patch things up, some are trying to mend their crumbling relationships. Although narrated in third person format, the narration reveals each character’s thoughts and emotions quite eloquently. Shari Lapena doesn’t even shy away from exposing their dark secrets and insidious nature, leaving quite an impression on me.
That strong impression was in fact the very thing that completely eclipsed what was supposed to be an exhilarating, thrilling “whodunit” element in this book. The mystery plot kind of took a back seat as far as I’m concerned, I never felt my heart racing no matter how many murders take place in this book. I would even go so far as to say I didn’t even care who the culprit was, who the murderer was. I didn’t like any of the characters in this book anyway, I just wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible. Sadly to say, I was utterly underwhelmed by the lack of tension in the mystery plot.

The writing is as strong and gripping as usual, yet there was a scene the execution of which felt so uncouth and rather childish.
In both two books (And Then There Were None and An Unwanted Guest), there’s a scene where the characters – the guests – grow suspicious about the others wondering who could be the killer and slowly driven into near-madness. They start to put blame on others, trying to prove their innocence.
This is actually where I find the reasoning of pinning a certain character as a murderer quite childish and almost laughable. i don’t know if it’s intentional, but there’s no conviction whatsoever, only speculations and the argument came across rather weak, like the one among elementary schoolers.

I might not be fair to say things like this, my impression toward this would have been much better had I not been reading And Then There Were None at the same time, but I couldn’t help but have thoughts such as “I admit this is an ambitious attempt, but I’m afraid what you’re up against was too formidable, sorry.”
I thought this would be another Okay read.

Who would have thought my assumption turned out wrong?

The last 20 % of the book, especially the last 15% of the book is where I thought this book completely separated itself from the curse of And Then There Were None.
This sequence includes a mad rush of revelations and the story line started to take a different path; here, the author displayed her prowess in writing double-faced, unreliable, and despicable characters who feel no compunction about their crime(s), and it was done so well that I found it quite an exhilarating and glorious ride. Once again, the impact that her characters leave stole the show and kept me engaged till the end. I really loved this development!

Although I had one unanswered question and was wondering how the author would explain, my question got cleared in the very end. I must admit it was really clever, leaving me unsure of the direction this book takes down to the last page.

Overall, I enjoyed this book as expected. Not overwhelmed or blown away like I was with the previous books, but I’ll say this book is such a page-turner and an entertaining read.
Bear in mind that I could be in the minority about my thoughts for this book, the odds are high that you’ll totally enjoy and appreciate this emotionally evocative murder mystery.
I’ll encourage you pick up this book and I’m curious to know what conclusion you reach when you finish it.

My Rating: ★★★.5

8 thoughts on “Review: An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

Add yours

  1. Great review, Noriko. You’re right, Shari Lapena always delivers such dark, sinister characters with plenty to hide! It is a shame the mystery element was not as tense as you hoped, but I am glad you liked it overall.
    Really looking forward to reading this one myself 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Stephen!! I’m afraid reading Christie was the biggest mistake I made… but honestly, my mind kept wandering off and going back to the similarities/dissimilarities between those two books!!
      I hope you can pick up this book soon and I’m really curious to know what you think!

      Liked by 1 person

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