Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Published by Park Row on January 25, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org
A woman receives an unexpected visitor during a deadly snowstorm in this chilling thriller from New York Times bestselling author Heather Gudenkauf
She thought she was alone…
True crime writer Wylie Lark doesn’t mind being snowed in at the isolated farmhouse where she’s retreated to write her new book. A cozy fire, complete silence. It would be perfect, if not for the fact that decades earlier, at this very house, two people were murdered in cold blood and a girl disappeared without a trace.
As the storm worsens, Wylie finds herself trapped inside the house, haunted by the secrets contained within its walls—haunted by secrets of her own. Then she discovers a small child in the snow just outside. After bringing the child inside for warmth and safety, she begins to search for answers. But soon it becomes clear that the farmhouse isn’t as isolated as she thought, and someone is willing to do anything to find them.
This is a book to be read with all the lights on under a pile of warm blankets, because this is a story that will make you shiver with chills – both from cold and from the creeps. Because the terrors in this book are all too real – and because you can feel the winter storm howling around the story.
At the start, there are three stories braided through this book. The first story, the one that seems to be the most obvious – at least on the surface – is Wylie Lark’s story. Wylie is a true crime writer, and she’s in tiny, remote Burden, Iowa to research and write her latest true crime thriller. She’s come to Burden – or rather to a somewhat dilapidated farmhouse outside Burden – because that house was the scene of the horrific crime she’s researching.
That crime is the second story. We’re reading her manuscript as she does her final edits. And the story she’s telling is pretty damn awful. Back in the summer of 2000, the family that lived in the house that Wylie is renting was murdered – while one girl survived and one went missing, presumed dead.
But then, there’s a third story that at first we’re not sure is fixed in either time or place, about a woman and her daughter being held in perpetual hostage by a man who regularly rapes the mother and beats and abuses them both mentally and emotionally as well as physically. It’s a story that should be over the top, but as we know all too well is not. Which just adds to the chills of horror and dread.
As those three stories weave together, a winter storm howls through Burden, piling up snow and ice, cutting off communication and power. Wylie is all alone in her rented house with her creepy story – until she goes out to bring the dog back in and discovers a young boy nearly frozen to death in the yard.
She brings him in and warms him up, even though he’s scared out of his wits – or at least out of his voice – by something or someone that Wylie doesn’t yet understand.
As the snow piles up and the power shuts down, Wylie and the child learn that they are not alone in their little oasis of safety – and that it’s not safe at all. And that’s where all the stories come together – and finally come to an end.
Escape Rating A-: I picked this up because I got all wrapped in This Is How I Lied and hoped for more of the same. Did I ever get exactly that!
I’m not a big thriller reader, but when I’m in the mood for it I’m hooked, perched on the edge of my seat and turning pages frantically to see how all the tense situations of the story manage to work themselves into a catharsis – if not exactly a happy ending. The Overnight Guest was no exception.
But I was also turning pages frantically trying to figure out how the three stories fit together and where they were placed in time. It seemed like Wylie’s narrative was in a present, maybe not exactly 2022 and possibly just before COVID times but at least recent. The story told in her book was dated August 2000 so that was the only fixed point. For the longest time I wasn’t sure where the part of the story about the woman, her daughter and the abusive bastard keeping them prisoner fit into things. In the end all three narratives come together in a single point, but I was lost there for a bit.
Especially as the story of the woman being held prisoner was such a hard read because it was both terrible and terribly plausible, as the real life stories of Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard (among others) attest.
The way that the three stories came together was both suspenseful and moving at the same time. It’s only as Wylie reveals the cliffhanger ending of the original crime that we begin to see how her present just might possibly connect with the horrific crime in the past.
As the story unfolds the reader gets caught up in trauma and/or danger on every side. Wylie fled to Burden to get away from her teenage son who has decided he’d rather live with his father than Wylie. (Personally, this was the least interesting part of the story because we don’t get enough of that situation to be truly invested.)
The crime that Wylie is investigating is both sensational and bloody. Her manuscript, relating the details puts all that old trauma and heartbreak on display for a hopefully eager audience of Wylie’s readers. It’s a story that is all the more brutal because it is rooted in just how awful human beings are.
Then there’s the storm. We feel it blow, we shiver in the wind, our toes curl up in the rising piles of snow. Wylie’s alone, the power is out, the house is cold and then her nerve-wracked solitude is invaded by ill-equipped, desperate people fleeing something or someone that they refuse to name. Whatever it is, they’ll run right over Wylie to escape it – no matter how much she tries to help them.
And that’s when the crisis finally breaks, and we put together all the pieces that have previously refused to fit. Pieces that have to break anew in order to finally heal – and we’re there for it all.