MYSTERY

The Christmas Guest: A Novella

Morrow Oct. 2023. 112p. ISBN 9780063297456. $19.99. M
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In diary entries from 1989, Ashley Smith, an American guest to a British Christmas week, reveals her excitement about the invitation she has received from a fellow college student: Emma Chapman has invited her home to Starvewood Hall in the Cotswolds. Emma warns Ashley that her parents are awful, and that women seem to fall for Emma’s brother Adam, but orphaned American Ashley dreams only of an English manor house at Christmas. No one warns Ashley, however, of the house’s isolation, or that Adam was recently suspected of killing a young woman. Upon arrival in the Cotswolds, Ashley is enchanted by the Chapman clan, visits to the local pub, and evenings spent playing games with the family. Ashley is half in love with Adam and takes every opportunity to spend time with him. Then her Christmas visit turns creepy when she’s followed through the woods. Thirty years later, the truth will be revealed about that haunting Christmas season. Despite the novella’s gothic charms, readers might find it hard to root for the characters.
VERDICT The author of The Kind Worth Saving, known for his books featuring psychopaths, introduces one in a Christmas ghost story that lacks sympathetic characters and falls flat.
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