Monday, January 11, 2016

Review: The Guest Room

Summary: From the New York Times bestselling author of Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls comes the spellbinding tale of a party gone horribly wrong: two men lie dead in a suburban living room, two women are on the run from police, and a marriage is ripping apart at the seams.

When Kristin Chapman agrees to let her husband, Richard, host his brother’s bachelor party, she expects a certain amount of debauchery. She brings their young daughter to Manhattan for the evening, leaving her Westchester home to the men and their hired entertainment. What she does not expect is this: bacchanalian drunkenness, her husband sharing a dangerously intimate moment in the guest room, and two women stabbing and killing their Russian bodyguards before driving off into the night.

In the aftermath, Kristin and Richard’s life rapidly spirals into nightmare. The police throw them out of their home, now a crime scene, Richard’s investment banking firm puts him on indefinite leave, and Kristin is unsure if she can forgive her husband for the moment he shared with a dark-haired girl in the guest room. But the dark-haired girl, Alexandra, faces a much graver danger. In one breathless, violent night, she is free, running to escape the police who will arrest her and the gangsters who will kill her in a heartbeat. A captivating, chilling story about shame and scandal, The Guest Room is a riveting novel from one of our greatest storytellers. -- Doubleday

When I first learned that Chris Bohjalian's new novel THE GUEST ROOM was a mystery/thriller of sorts, I became very excited. I have been a huge fan of Mr. Bohjalian's for years now, and I have a huge appreciation of his writing. He seems to be able to do it all -- he always manages to tell a great story with complex characters. But a novel of suspense? That's something entirely new. Regardless, I had very high expectations for THE GUEST ROOM.

And overall, I think Mr. Bohjalian met most of my expections in THE GUEST ROOM. I enjoyed it quite a bit although it definitely won't go down as my favorite one of his novels. And while it was a mystery of sorts, it wasn't a traditional whodunit. I'd say it was more literary fiction with a few mystery aspects to the story. Most importantly (and what I enjoyed the most about the novel) was that it was a delved into the lives of some very complex (and therefore interesting) characters.

THE GUEST ROOM tells the story of what happens after a bachelor party goes horribly wrong. Richard Chapman, a successful investment banker and family man, hosts a bachelor party for his younger brother and his friends at his home. Kristen, Richard's wife, takes their nine year old daughter to her mother's for the night -- thankfully -- because the evening quickly spins out of control when the two hired "girls" end up killing their bodyguards and escaping.

Richard's life (and his family's) is an absolute mess. His house is trashed and the scene of a murder, and his wife no longer can look at him after he admits to going upstairs with one of the girls; and his daughter doesn't fully understand what happened and is reluctant to trust her dad. Richard's reputation in in shambles. In addition to the round-the-clock news coverage about the event which doesn't portray the men at the party in a very nice light, Richard's company has also asked him to take a leave of absence to keep up appearances.

As bad as Richard's life seems to be, Alexandra, one of the girls at the party, has it much worse. After escaping from the scene of the crime with a friend, she finds herself all alone and fearing for her life. She is afraid to go to the police because they will arrest her for prostitution and murder, and she's also terrified of the Russian gangsters who have "owned" her for the past few years. She is all alone in a strange country and has no where to turn...

THE GUEST ROOM is a riveting story to say the least. The first few chapters of this book packed a powerful punch and I couldn't put the book down. The pace of the story didn't remain quite this intense for the rest of the novel, but I'm pretty sure there's no way it could have. As the aftermath of the horror came to light, the individual character's reactions were so real; and it often times made me not only uncomfortable but also heartbroken.

One thing I appreciated about THE GUEST ROOM was how the Chapman family's stories unfolded after the crime. I felt as if the author did a great job bringing their pain (and even their embarrassment) to light. The book was extremely insightful as far as family dynamics and marriage go, and I could honestly feel Kristin and her daughter's confusion and hurt.

However, I think the real beauty of this novel was Alexandra's story. Alexandra had a horrible life for her brief 19 years on this earth. She had already suffered so much loss and her dreams were basically shattered for her as a young teen. I enjoyed her story and how the author chose to tell it (it her words!), and she is a character who will remain in my thoughts for some time... always a sign of a good story!

Even though there was a mystery element to the novel and even a few surprise twists at the end, I still think the strength of this story was in the characters. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't disappointed with the suspense parts. I just think the writing and the character development was better.

Overall, I enjoyed THE GUEST ROOM quite a bit and think fans of Mr. Bohjalian's will appreciate it. I definitely recommend it to fans of suspense/mystery books and literary fiction.

Thanks to the publisher for providing an e-book for review.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.


bermudaonion said...

I didn't realize this is a mystery/thriller. I love his writing so I'm sure it's great!

techeditor said...

I read this, too. Easy prediction: THE GUEST ROOM will be on many, even most best-of-2016 lists. It is the best kind of thriller – – a literary thriller.

The story begins with a bachelor's party given by Richard for his immature younger brother and his friends.The unexpected occurs when the girls who Richard thought were just strippers offer sexual favors to the drunk partiers. It gets worse: there is a murder and it is soon discovered that the girls are sex slaves from Russia.

The majority of this book then examines how Richard , his wife, and his nine-year-old daughter deal with the aftermath. Alternate chapters, written in first person by one of the girls, explain how she was trapped into the sex trade and brought to America.

These chapters are difficult to read; all chapters are careful and thoughtful. The story is riveting, and I hated for it to end.