The Guest Room
reviewed by Warner Holme
Tasha Sylva’s The Guest Room is a debut crime novel with a lot of twists and turns. Featuring family loss and poor coping mechanisms, one woman’s odd behaviors help spiral her life into something dangerous and disturbing quickly.
Tess is a woman who feels compelled to be more than a little nosy. She goes through the possessions of those staying in her little rented rooms, reading diaries and examining possessions. This in and of itself is a dislikeable habit, but the way it is organically explained as a result of her trauma following her sister Rosie’s death makes it more sympathetic. In the face of seeming disinterest on the part of the police, particularly, Tess’s attempt to discover what happened is understandable, even if her methods and their side effects are terrifying.
Blaming herself for the death, mostly because an amorous evening kept her from her phone when calls were made, Tess has cut herself off from family and most friends as she seems to become more and more obsessed not only with the murder but also her sister’s life. While a certain degree of wearing hand-me-downs might be understandable, the way everything from piles of seeds to the woman’s makeup choices become important to Tess illustrates that she is not a well woman.
Obsession is probably the key theme of the book, and that’s appropriate for a volume that deals with snooping, spying, and stalking. The use of these obsessive traits by both the lead and multiple characters besides is an impressive direction to take the volume. Rather than treat one set as entirely positive, the negatives of such behavior, even in the viewpoint character, are dwelt on well. Furthermore, those times the point of view switches allow for a look into the mindset of the individual responsible for many of the more disturbing acts in the book.
The other major characters include Arran, who is living as a boarder with Tess and represents the individual whose diary she has begun less than discreetly reading. While hiding this violation and noticing his obsession with some woman to the point of following and trying to discreetly watch her, Tess finds herself in a quasi-romantic relationship with him that seems to develop quickly even as she allows other aspects of her life to unravel. Oliver, Rosie’s ex-boyfriend, seems rough and distant and is the instant suspect that Tess latches onto. Nalika serves as a put-upon friend for most of the story, slipping in and out of the narrative. Ivy and her boyfriend Luke are somewhat more distant neighbors, with certain secrets of infidelity between them. A believable if odd assortment of characters and, for the moments that need them, suspects.
The Guest Room twists and turns its narrative in a way that will keep readers guessing. Very much appropriately connected to the thriller as well as the investigative mystery genre, a sense of encroaching horror will attract most readers. Easy to recommend to curious parties, anyone who likes a good tale of mystery and obsession should appreciate this volume.
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