The Guesthouse has been described as the classic remote house mystery. Seven disparate guests arrive on a lonely stretch of hillside in Ireland for an introductory budget break. But when the internet and mobile phone signals fail, and a storm blows in from the sea, they are trapped in a nightmare – with a killer lurking nearby.
The book came about after I’d given a series of lectures on the golden age of crime and was tempted to try a contemporary take on the traditional country house murder. Agatha Christie is the name that springs most readily to mind when you think of golden age authors and, although like everyone I have a soft spot for her detectives, it’s Christie’s darker and more sinister novels such as And Then There Were None, The Crooked House and Endless Night that really appeal to me.
The Guesthouse is definitely not cosy. In fact, it’s influenced, not just by Christie, but by some of the masters of gothic fiction such as Wilkie Collins, Daphne Du Maurier and Shirley Jackson. So there are hints in the book of something even more creepy than a straightforward murder mystery. And I’m thrilled that many reviewers have said not only that the book compelled them to read on to find out all the secrets, but also that they were scared to sleep afterwards! So it’s DARK, but hopefully entertaining.
Conversation between the protagonist and antagonist. (Some names and details have been changed to protect the guilty!)
He looked down at her. ‘Wakey, wakey,’ he said.
After a moment he knelt and pulled down her gag. She gasped for air, spitting out foul-tasting saliva, and he smiled.
‘What do you want?’ Hannah said. ‘Why are you doing this?’
His bright eyes stared down at her, full of intelligence. ‘It’s a long story.’ His hand reached to touch a lock of her hair.
She flinched away. ‘Get off me! Get the fuck off me!’ But when he stood up again and went to the door, she called out. ‘Wait! Where’s Maddie?’
‘Maddie?’ He looked back at her. ‘What a disappointment she was. So weak, so pathetic, just like her mother. She was hardly worth killing.’
Hannah could smell smoke, but it was only faint. How long had she been unconscious? She needed to keep him talking. ‘You’re so wrong about her. Maddie made a career for herself, out of nothing. Or didn’t you know?’
‘Of course I did.’ He laughed. ‘I’ve been watching her for years. And I missed her, that’s the truth, I missed Maddie.’
The soft way that he spoke – so warm and comforting – made her shiver. ‘That’s why I brought her back,’ he said. ‘But aren’t you dying to know why the rest of you are here too?’ She swallowed but didn’t respond. ‘Of course you are.’ He grinned. ‘You see, you all have something very special in common.’
‘What? What do we have in common?’
‘You pissed me off.’ He laughed again. ‘That fucking policeman, hanging around all the time, trying to make people suspicious of me.’
‘He was just doing his job.’
He cocked his head at her. ‘Took to the old bastard, did you? Well I sorted him out. Got him off my back and out of the job without much trouble, but there always seemed to be some other do-gooder popping up.’
Hannah flinched as he touched her face, running his finger down her cheek and cupping her chin. ‘You all tried to ruin things for me. Although you, Hannah my darling, you have the unique distinction of being the only one who managed to do so.’
Hannah began to shake with a chill that reached all the way into her bones. She tried to move, to work her hands free, but the rope had been tied too tight by too practised a hand. He talked continually, his words spilling out of him as if the days alone had built up a torrent of language. He touched the picture that showed The Guesthouse in the background. ‘I’ve always hated this house. I thought about setting fire to it for years. Then I had a better idea, the perfect way to do it: a group of Cloud BNB guests ignoring all the warnings and throwing petrol on the fire when the generator failed.’
Hannah watched him walk back and forth. She needed to keep him talking, give herself enough time to plan her escape. ‘But why go to all that trouble? Why not just light a fire on the first night and get rid of us all?’
He stopped pacing and smiled down at her. ‘Now where would be the fun in that? No, I didn’t just want to kill you, I wanted to own you; I wanted you to know I was doing it.’
Hannah tried to swallow but her throat was too dry. ‘What about the others? The ones who didn’t even know you?’
‘The families? Call that guilt by association. Or a bonus for me. And they didn’t have to come. Hardly my fault if they couldn’t resist a cheap holiday.’
‘You’re insane. You’re fucking insane.’ She struggled against the rope for a moment, and then fell still.
He just chuckled and turned back to the photos. ‘I’m not insane, I just like to live freely.’ He carried on, the sound of his voice echoing in the silence. ‘I decided not to plan anything too rigidly, so even I didn’t know how it would all pan out. That’s the best thing about experiments, you never know what might happen. What you can use. When that annoying little cat started hanging around the place a few weeks back I thought of bashing its head in there and then. But I left it in case it came in handy later. And it did.
As he stood there by the wall, something about his shape and size sent a memory flickering into Hannah’s mind. A tall shadow standing in the storm by the outhouse, wrestling with the door.
‘I saw you!’ Hannah said. ‘When I went out in the storm.’
He laughed. ‘You almost caught me, but you always were clever.’
‘But what were you—’
A sound cut Hannah off. The sound of something collapsing in the house above them. He went to the door and looked out. ‘Not long now, princess, not long now.’ He rubbed his hands together. Relishing the moment.
Hannah closed her eyes and remembered those words from another time. Not long now, princess, not long now.
‘Time to go,’ he said.
Who would you choose to play each of them in a film or TV series?
Emilia Clarke might fit the bill for Hannah.
As for my villain, I’d go for Hugh Grant or maybe Jason Isaacs.
What is the creepiest action taken by your antagonist?
Creepy moments abound in The Guesthouse, but whether the antagonist is responsible for them all is for the reader to decide! For me the most sinister is when the protagonist is dozing in the warm bubbles of her bath and wakes to the realisation that someone has been in there with her, close enough to touch her, but has disappeared leaving the door still locked. All that’s left behind is the lingering smell of a distinctive cologne.
You use an app, called Cloud BNB, to book a room online. And on a cold and windy afternoon you arrive at The Guesthouse, a dramatic old building on a remote stretch of hillside in Ireland.
You are expecting a relaxing break, but you find something very different. Something unimaginable. Because a killer has lured you and six other guests here and now you can’t escape.
One thing’s for certain: not all of you will come back from this holiday alive…
Abbie Frost is the author of five crime novels published by Harper Collins. Her first four books, written under the name Chris Curran, are psychological thrillers or domestic noir and critics have called them ‘compelling.’ ‘truly gripping,’ (Sunday Express) ‘cinematic and well-constructed’. In 2020, with The Guesthouse, she also began writing as Abbie Frost.
Follow Abbie/Chris on Twitter: @FrostyAbbie
Critique Service for Writers
Join the D.I. Sterling Mailing List for News, Updates and Giveaways