Tasha Sylva’s debut novel, “The Guest Room” is a thriller that hits all the expected beats, but ends with a neat twist that’ll surprise many readers. It’s an easy and enjoyable read.
Tess is grief stricken by her sister Rosie’s violent death. She is obsessed with finding out who killed her – the police have made no progress, and in fact, the case is now so cold that they’re clearly putting more of their attention on other, newer crimes.
Meanwhile, Tess keeps going over Rosie’s last months, examining every detail in order to find potential clues. She is, in fact, starting to seem a little unhinged in the things she thinks might be clues.
Tess has moved into Rosie’s flat, and to meet the mortgage she has taken to renting Rosie’s room to a succession of short term guests. This in turn has given rise to another compulsion: searching through her guest’s possessions to see what they keep secret. Because everyone has secrets, don’t they?
When Arran rents the room for a whole month, Tess finds herself intrigued. He’s not easy to understand and yet is oddly appealing. In her search for secrets, Tess finds his diary — entry after entry about an unnamed woman. Tess keeps returning to read new entries, increasingly disturbed. Is Arran a man with a crush, or a dangerous stalker?
This is a pretty standard psychological thriller plot, with suspects both obvious and less obvious, a few red herrings, and a narrator whose perceptions may not be reliable. Indeed, at one point I thought it was too standard, and a bit obvious. But just you wait — that’s laying the groundwork for some unexpected moments.
The final twist is unexpected, and yet it has been foreshadowed earlier in the novel. I was quite annoyed with myself: I’d spotted a major clue but then allowed myself to be distracted by what seemed a more important issue. I should have known what was going on!
The novel is manipulative in the best way, distracting and misleading you, pointing your attention in all sorts of directions. You know some of it is a smokescreen, but as you’re reading it’s very hard to tell what you should be paying attention to. Sylva is very good at focusing you on what she wants you to be thinking about.
Tess is an interesting character, in that on a lot of levels, she’s not very appealing. She’s sneaky and she makes the life of the detective assigned to her sister’s case difficult – being obstructive when she thinks she’s helping. She’s not a great friend. And as I said, she’s increasingly sounding quite unhinged.
And yet. Who couldn’t feel for her, losing her sister in such a way? Her parents are no help – the resemblance between the sisters is so strong that they can’t even look at Tess any more. Most of her friends have drifted away, and her work is low skill and isolating. It’s easy enough to understand her, and although you might not want her as a friend, you will get strongly drawn into her quest to find her sister’s killer.
I enjoyed this, and I think most thriller fans will. It’s well written, and although the plot is at times a little too obvious with some of the suspects, it redeems itself with the final twist. I was never bored and found myself satisfied when I closed the novel.
Copy courtesy of Welbeck (2023)
A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading The Guest Room by Tasha Sylva. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.
I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember, and I love sharing that joy.
I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember, across all genres. There’s not much I won’t at least try. I’ve been an enthusiastic book reviewer for years. I particularly enjoy discovering writers new to me, and sharing good writing with others.
My career has included time spent writing and editing technical documents, but it’s fiction that really moves me. I’ve reviewed for a number of different outlets over the years, and have been a judge in literary competitions.
I’m now raising little bookworms of my own, which brings a whole new kind of joy to sharing books.
More of my reviews can be found on my review blog www.otherdreamsotherlives.home.blog .