The Overnight Guest is an unexpected, twisty delight divided by multiple narrators and multiple PoVs that still manages to work. It’s gruesome and involving and horrifying and wonderfully intriguing.
Wylie Lark doesn’t expect to become the central figure in a real-life mystery when she locks herself away in a remote house in Burden, Iowa to write her latest true crime book. Happy to spend the winter with her dog Tas for company, even in the midst of a blizzard, she’s working on her latest book, which retells the stories of a gruesome double homicide – an incident which took place in the house that she has rented. Her plans for solitude are interrupted when she spies a child collapsed in the snow outside her door. She brings the child inside, and thus begins her troubles, as he seems to be extremely traumatized from what he’s been through and is completely nonverbal. It doesn’t help that they’re being stalked by a woman with an axe.
Back in 2000, Josie Doyle’s story is told through her twelve-year-old eyes. Josie had arranged for her best friend Becky to sleep over at her house for the night, but things are getting hectic between Josie’s parents and her brother Ethan. The girls try to sneak out for the night to escape, but then they hear a banging noise in the distance. They run back to Josie’s home to discover a horror beyond their comprehension. Most of Josie’s family will die that night, and Becky and Ethan will go missing.
There’s a third PoV from a child character who lives isolated with her mother and abusive, alcoholic father. The mother and child are not allowed to leave their basement home, and must rely on the father to return from the outside world with infusions of medicine, entertainment and food. Eventually all three perspectives collide and Wylie’s past and present become one.
It’s perhaps pretty easy to figure out a few of the twists bubbling under The Overnight Guest’s surface, but there’s a big one - bloody, chilling and quite satisfying - that will jump out and take the reader by surprise. I liked Wylie as the story’s logical, haunted central heroine, and the nervy, beaten down bravery of the mother and child. Young Josie is a wonderful character to follow too.
The writing here is very strong, as is the suspense element. The actual culprit will not be obvious even by the last third of the book.
I did drop my final grade just a little bit because the addition of extra narrative chapters from Detective Santos – who investigates the crime in the 2000s - and Becky’s mom feel unnecessary and distract from the three-pronged narrative tension between Wylie, Josie and the mystery child. But it wasn’t enough to keep me from loving the book, and its chilly winter setting. And yes, the third plot feels a little derivative of Room, but it’s not as if what’s happening to the girl and her mother hasn’t tragically happened to hundreds of women and teenagers throughout history.
The Overnight Guest is a wonderful read, and comes with a strong recommendation.
Note: This book contains a graphically depicted on-page miscarriage and domestic violence, as well as physical, verbal and emotional abuse of children, obsessive stalking. horror-style bloody violence, implied rape and paedophilia.
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Recent Comments …
That is a great suggestion! I may just do so, since Caz says that WFTF hasn’t really changed all that…
Thanks for this review — I got the book from my library and was thoroughly charmed!
I read the excerpt of this one and it’s a doozy. It begins with the hero thinking about the heroine…
This one looks amazing. I will have to add it to my never-ending TBR.
No worries, it doesn’t sound like that big of a spoiler! Thank you for elaborating, Caz. You are always very…
I wish you’d seen my review first and been warned away from it! Thank you!