- Book: The Guest House
- Location: North Pennines
- Author: Robin Morgan-Bentley
“A tense spin on the locked-room mystery”
Jamie and Victoria decide to head to the North Pennines for sentimental reasons, just a few weeks before the due date of their baby. Victoria has had her 36 week check up and all is good. They decide upon Cumbria as their destination and choose B&B ‘Chorister’s Lodge’, which, upon arrival, seems to have a rather dark aura. They are welcomed by owners Fiona and Barry (whose stamp-like moustache certainly raises an eyebrow) and they exchange pleasantries. They all have dinner together, chat about their jobs and retire to bed; but in the early hours Fiona’s Braxton Hicks contractions move into full-blown labour. Jamie heads off to find help but he discovers that their phones and car keys are missing, the doors are locked and Fiona and Barry, seem to have scarpered. To all intents and purposes they are incarcerated in their remote dwelling with the pressure of a baby about to be born.
Flip to a short while later – only a matter of weeks – and Victoria and Jamie are suggesting that their infant died at birth but it is clear this is not the truth. The whole mystery unfurls: and the thrust of the novel is how the couple copes with the aftermath of events back at the B&B and how it all concludes. There are some staggering twists and turns along the way, history, secrets spilled at junctures, and it all bowls along at a decent pace.
Victoria is 34 and this is her first child. They are a nervous couple awaiting the birth. Given it is her first – as an elderly primigravida – it seems so very unlikely that she and Jamie would decamp to a remote spot at such a late stage in the pregnancy, ESPECIALLY as it transpires that Jamie was himself born a month premature. They haven’t got a clue which is the nearest hospital (it seems to be Carlisle) and they don’t have the documentation with them that they would need, should the baby come a little early, which we know it (he – Danny) does. Therefore the premise of the novel feels rather untenable right from the outset.
Jamie suffers from a disability which becomes apparent as the narrative moves forward, and which adds an extra dimension and tension to the storyline. He comes across, however, as a really two-dimensional partner. I listened to this as an audiobook and the narrator of Jamie’s character enunciates very clearly but there is neither undulation nor passion and urgency (given it is a thriller, this is very important), and it is such a flat and stultifying rendition that it sometimes felt quite soporific, even when the action is racing and pulsing. It felt like the text of the book was being read rather than acted. The narrator of Victoria’s mother at times assumes a parody voice, so rather than inflection and animation, she voices a nasally clipped tone, shorthand for an undermining and controlling woman, who of course is just an unpleasant person. Lauren, and her sister Flo, are interchangeably given similar and annoying nasal treatment. There is also an Epilogue which ultimately felt a little superfluous.
The author is a good writer and pulls together a decent narrative, but it is just such a preposterous storyline, which ultimately dominates (do people get arrested at the drop of a hat, simply on the word of someone who states something has happened, when (at that point) there is no evidence? I don’t think so…).
As it says in the description, an unfortunate choice of phrasing I might suggest: The baby’s coming, there’s no way out (well, there is…)
Sadly this wasn’t really for me.