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"The Christmas Guest" | Reviewed by Pat Sainz

“The Christmas Guest” is a novella by mystery writer Peter Swanson. It’s protagonist, Ashley Smith, is newly orphaned and studying art at a college in London. Her home is in California, but with no one to visit during the Christmas break, she accepts an invitation from her new college friend Emma.

Ashely agrees to spend the holidays with Emma’s family in their Cotswold manor just outside of London. When Ashley meets Emma’s brother Adam, she falls for him instantly.

Unbeknownst to Ashley, Emma and Adam have plotted to arrange Ashley’s visit for nefarious purposes. Ashley is oblivious. She is awed by the size of the home and infatuated with the extended family that is visiting the manor for a few days until Christmas.

Ashley feels a little less awed by Emma and Adam’s mother, who is critical and cold. Ashley has been warned to avoid being behind closed doors with their father. His reputation with women is well-known. Even a guest writer, who is spending the holiday with the family, is not to be trusted although the only reason Ashley avoids his advances is because she is smitten with Adam.

Even when Ashley learns that Adam is under suspicion for the brutal murder of a young woman in the woods near his house, she is convinced that someone so charming and handsome could never be guilty of a crime. An alibi appears to exonerate him, as well. Ashley easily ignores any hints of darkness while the guests enjoy dinners with all the trimmings, games, Christmas carols and falling snow.

Halfway through the novella, the story takes a surprise turn that fuels the mystery and apprehension invoked by the dual setting of darkness amidst gaiety along with the gripping storytelling.

“The Christmas Guest” is quick read at only 93 pages. It is worth a second read just to enjoy the details that fall into place once the ending is known.

The author wrote this story to be read in one sitting. His wish is for it to be enjoyed by readers on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day around a glowing fire or wrapped in a warm blanket while sitting in a comfy chair.

I recommend this book as an added Christmas gift for your favorite adult or young adult reader. It will be enjoyed during the holidays or at any time of the year.

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