The Guesthouse by Abbie Frost

Variation on a theme…

😀 😀 😀 😀

Following the death of her boyfriend, Hannah’s life is spiralling out of control. She’s behaving recklessly and drinking too much, and her friends and family are getting very tired of her. So when she receives a reminder about a booking she and her boyfriend had made to stay for a few nights in a guest-house in Ireland, she decides to go. But as soon as she arrives spooky things begins to happen, while bad weather and storms means she and her fellow guests find themselves cut off from the outside world. And then the deaths begin…

There seems to be a little trend of books at the moment taking the premise of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None – a group of people carefully collected together in an isolated spot by someone with a grievance who then sets about bumping them off one by one. It’s certainly an excellent set-up and the trick is to do something original within the overall structure so that it doesn’t just seem like a copy of the great original. Frost’s basic story isn’t particularly original – after all these years of psychological thrillers it would be hard to find an angle that no one else had used – but she handles it well and uses the general spookiness of the house to good effect to create an atmosphere of enjoyable tension.

I must admit I groaned a bit at the beginning. A few years ago I got so fed up with the identikit misery-fest thriller sub-genre that I wrote a joking pastiche of it, involving a hungover alcoholic woman whose family and friends all hated her and whose life was a mess because of something unspecified that happened “that day” in the past. The first several pages of this book read almost like a pastiche of my pastiche, up to and including the obligatory drunken vomiting scene. Happily, while it continues to tread fairly well-worn ground throughout, Frost writes well (and in past tense – hurrah!), and makes the excellent decision to remove the opportunity for getting drunk from Hannah as soon as she arrives at the guest-house. Once she sobers up, she becomes a much more interesting and enjoyable lead character – a lesson all drunks, fictional or otherwise, could learn from!

Abbie Frost

The underlying story is dark and again perhaps too well-trodden to really surprise, but although I guessed parts of the plot and saw some of the twists coming, it’s done well and, once the rather slow start is out of the way, the pacing picks up so that it becomes a page-turner. The characterisation is a bit patchy – some of the characters are very well done, others less so, but happily I lost my initial antipathy to Hannah herself and gradually found myself on her side.

It’s not one to think too hard about or to analyse too deeply. There are, perhaps, too many bits that require a hefty suspension of disbelief. But the pacing and spookiness make it an entertaining read overall and it all culminates in an exciting and nicely over-the-top thriller ending. Once I got into it I enjoyed it a lot, finding myself reluctant to put it down, which is exactly the effect a good thriller should have.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, HarperCollins.

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29 thoughts on “The Guesthouse by Abbie Frost

  1. I’m glad this one was a good story eventually. It’s not in the library nor cheap on Amazon, so I probably won’t get to read it. It does sound like it has the right level of distraction and immersion for present circumstances.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, this is definitely a time for crime fiction! This was fun despite the clichéd aspects, and just what I needed at the time, which is as much as you can hope for from any book!

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  2. At least it was able to get out of Misery Memoir territory fairly quickly, as I think that is probably the last thing anyone should be reading or writing at the moment. It sounds as though this was just what you needed, so I’m glad it worked out. I loved your pastiche, it made the Girl on the Train seem like a comedy.

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    • Yes, I was so glad she sobered up! Crime always seems to be my go-to genre when stressed for any reason – not sure what that says about my mental state… 😉 Haha, glad you enjoyed the pastiche – I was feeling particularly bitter when I wrote it, having ploughed through about a million of these misery-fests. That was the point where I began to read vintage crime instead… 😀

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  3. You know, FictionFan, as soon as I started reading this post I thought of And Then…. It is interesting the number of books that have that sort of theme. I’m very glad to hear this one got better as you went along. And the setting does sound appealing. Hm….I may look for it at some point (Ngaio Marsh Award entries are starting to come in, so I’m having to focus on those at the moment…)

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    • It seems to have taken off as a little sub-genre all of its own at the moment, which is fine so long as writers can make it feel fresh each time. I enjoyed this one more than I thought I was going to in the end. Oh, I hope you get some goodies from the Ngaio Marsh contenders – I shall miss you blogging about them!

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    • Yes, this kind of book is great for when concentration on “hard” books is too much for our poor stressed brains! I suspect those Cadfaels that have been on my TBR for years might get their chance to shine soon… 😀

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  4. Your pastiche is great! Horror movies have also turned to the trope of carefully curated people sent to a remote place. The recent movie, Fantasy Island, has this theme (though it also is based on an old TV show).
    The author’s photo makes her look like she’s mirroring her main character.

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    • I was feeling particularly bitter when I wrote that pastiche, I think! 😉 Yes, there was a horror element to this too, and even the original feels quite spooky – Christie was always great at inserting a little bit of horror from time to time. Haha, she does! 😂

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  5. I’m intrigued at the premise here (even though we all know Christie probably did the best job with locked room mysteries!). And I’m rather fascinated by the author’s photo — way different from the usual ones you see gracing a book cover. Glad this one proved a good read for you.

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    • Yes, as usual I wonder why authors set themselves up for comparisons with the greats, because it rarely works in their favour. However, this was good fun even if it’s not likely to become a classic like the original. Haha, it’s a great photo, isn’t it? She looks like she’s enjoying life… 😀

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  6. This made me think of Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers, because it starts out with a woman who’s heading to a “health” retreat and will be missing her alcohol. But no one dies. She’s hilarious and withering in her dissection of her characters, but parts of it did stretch credibility. Big Little Lies was better, I think. Anyway, I’ll stick with the original Agatha for shooting fish in the fishbowl. I’m a purist.

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    • I still haven’t read Nine Perfect Strangers, although I loved Big Little Lies. I do think a few murders are really essential for a book to be properly entertaining though! 😉 Definitely the Christie is better, but then that could be my motto! I do wonder why authors so often set themselves up for comparisons that rarely work in their favour…

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      • Perhaps it’s the possibility that they might succeed that tempts them? And then once it’s written, they have no objectivity. At that point, I’d think an editor would step in and request changes to make it better, but then those editors may be too young to have read the original? Not sure…

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        • Maybe they bank on the readers being too young to have read the original and I’m sure often they’d be right about that. But when more and more crime readers are turning to vintage crime, you’d think it would make authors and publishers pause and wonder why…

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  7. This sounds good, and you know what? I don’t always mind a predictable story (or one that I can easily figure out) as long as I enjoy the characters and their journey. I still need to read the original Christie, of course. 😉

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    • Yes, I think there’s a lot to be said for books that follow a pattern so long as they manage to make it feel different enough to be fresh. But the original is much better – you should read it immediately… 😉

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  8. It’s funny, I could see myself reading this book in the future but your review could apply to SO MANY DIFFERENT BOOKS RIGHT NOW. I feel the same way about all these psychological thrillers; they’re similar, entertaining, but sort of predictable. The characterization isn’t great, but isn’t terrible either. There are so many books like this that it’s damn near impossible to find a unique premise. Sounding familiar? LOL

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha, I know! That’s why I’ve more or less given up on contemporary crime – they seem to all slavishly follow trends and the trend at the moment is for these isolated settings. And very few of them have stand-out writing or characterisation. But nonetheless the occasional one can be a bit of escapist fun… 😀

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