The Other Guest by Helen Cooper – Review
By Sandra Callard
This rip-roaring story of tantalising complexity is set both in England and Italy and covers misplaced love, an unexplained death and a possible murder. It also has a set of characters of such interest that the book becomes an intoxicating read.
The narrative centres around the death of the daughter of a couple who own a beautiful, top class hotel on the stunning Lake Garda in Italy. The daughter, Amy, hates the place and wants to leave. She has tried before to do so but was stopped by her parents and is about to have another bid for freedom when she dies in the lake surrounding the hotel. Was it an accident or was it murder? The unfolding mystery will touch many more than just those surrounding the luxury hotel.
A large part of The Other Guest revolves around an aunt of Amy, who was a particular friend of hers, Leah, as she travels to the luxury hotel to be with her family after Amy’s death. Things are not quite right within the family. They are behaving strangely, and Leah becomes enmeshed in something that she does not understand, but feels is very dangerous, and so the mystery of what actually happened to Amy begins. Some strange connections start to materialise at a pace which is slow and tantalising, and which makes the book very hard to put down.
Each chapter is headed by the name of a character in the book and covers a part of the story that applies specifically to that character. It is not an unknown feature, and is normally one which I dislike, as the reader has to reassemble the character’s place in the story before they can begin to read on. But it’s a small niggle amid a small hiatus, which happily does not diminish the clever plot of this fascinating novel.
The book cleverly highlights the extreme heat of Italy among the glory of the palatial hotel, and the rich and elegant visitors who frequent the place. That in itself is fascinating to read as the hotel has elevated itself to such a degree that only the very rich and prestigious will visit it. Leah, however, has feelings similar to Amy, and does not like the place or the people, but is unsure of the reason why she feels this way.
The story heads for its expected crescendo, and the build up is perfect, the denouement clever.
This is a book that requires constant attention as the plot wavers, hides and changes in a neat and fascinating way. There is a touch of Agatha Christie in the way the characters and the plot swerves, steadies and takes another route, which is fascinating to read and is extremely addictive once begun.
The Other Guest is a very pictorial read as the people, their emotions and, above all, the sketching of the beautiful surroundings of the Italian Lakes, are perfectly done. The fact that they stand hand in hand with a possible murder, makes for absolute reading perfection.
I read the book at two sittings and even then the 389 pages flew by. This is a fabulous book for those who like to try and work things out as they go along, which is mostly what mystery readers do anyway. A cracking good read, with the added loving touch of every word feeling just right.
‘The Other Guest’ by Helen Cooper is published by Hodder & Stoughton, £22 hardback