It’s November aka the ‘is it Halloween still or Christmas already?’ month. As we adapt from Halloween horror reads to comforting Christmas reads, Christmas thrillers are the perfect transition reads.
The Christmas Guest by Peter Swanson is an English countryside Christmas murder mystery. Ashley Smith, an American orphan, is on a year abroad in London when she is invited to spend Christmas at Starwood Hall, the Cotswold manor house of her classmate, Emma Chapman. Hoping to find herself in a Christmas romance, Ashley is thrown in the middle of a Gothic thriller.
The Christmas Guest benefits from being a short novel of 124 pages that you can read in one sitting and not wait long to get some answers. It is ideal for those who are nowhere near completing their reading goals for the year and looking to cram in some more reading before the end of the year, those who are looking for some travel entertainment, and those who are in a reading slump and looking to get back into reading again.
At times, this book gives the feeling of Gillian Flynn’s writing, best known for Gone Girl, who is a successful name in thrillers. However, for me, having that impression from the beginning made the book a little predictable, though not less gripping.
The distinct voices of different characters, as well as the different perspectives of characters on each other, is a crafty touch. Additionally, for a short novel, the reader gets a strong sense of characterisation for all characters no matter how major or minor but especially Ashley, Emma and Emma’s brother, Adam.
The structure of the book as half diary entries from the past and half recollection of those events from a character later on in life is an interesting contrast. While the different uses of speech in those two formats are understandable, the script-like statements of who is speaking in the diary entries feel a little disruptive to the pace of the book and the speaker would have been clear without the use of those. While I understand the purpose, I don’t think it adds anything to the diary format.
Although I have said that there are some predictable elements to this book, (minor spoiler) the re-occurrence of the dead person near the end was unexpected. While it could be thought that it adds a supernatural element, it could also be an illustration of a complex mental state, or both. It is left to the reader to decide which one it is. This adds a haunting touch for the reader, leaving us wondering about it beyond the pages of the book.
I enjoyed reading The Christmas Guest, though I have read a lot more complex thrillers that kept me guessing. Considering that, for me, this book gets a 3.5 out of 5 rating. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, it is currently on sale on Amazon (hardback for less than a paperback price!), go buy it now!
Thank you, Faber & Faber, for sending us a copy of this book.