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The Disinvited Guest


The Disinvited Guest

I recently reviewed THE LOCKED ROOM, in which Elly Griffiths uses the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as the backdrop to her murder mystery. Now, in THE DISINVITED GUEST, Carol Goodman has blown the doors off this concept by moving it into the not-too-distant future.

A much stronger strain of the virus has hit us, and a group of friends have decided to escape to an island off the coast of Maine in an attempt to lock themselves down. However, knowing this is a Carol Goodman novel (and one of her best ever, I might add), these characters soon will be faced with not only their own secrets and fears, but also the secrets, infamous history and pagan supernatural powers that exist all around them. It’s a nice literary way of saying that you can run, but you can’t hide.

"Using the pandemic as a plot device is sheer brilliance, which helps make it an extremely frightening novel and one of the finest efforts of Goodman’s career (which is really saying something)."

Reed Harper has organized this trip, or more appropriately escape, and has limited the number of people he has invited. Joining him are his author wife, Lucy; his sister, Liz, and her partner, Niko; and his college friend, Ada, and her husband, Crosby. Meeting them at the dock for the boat ride is Mac, Reed’s best friend who lives on the ironically named Fever Island year round.

Once everyone is gathered around the fire in the great room of the big house on the island where they’re staying, Reed leads them in a toast: “Here’s to our brave new world. May it fare better than the old one.” They discuss the island and the history that directly involves his father, Dr. Nathaniel Harper. He recounts the alleged stories of witches, ghosts and even the horned devil himself being part of its storied past. Mac echoes that there has been some bad mojo here. It is suggested that Lucy might seek out Dr. Harper's journals for her long-discussed second novel.

Crosby surprises everyone by announcing that Ada, a former actress who is now a nurse, is three months pregnant. This is primarily why they wanted to escape New York City. Crosby himself is a hospital administrator and plans to work remotely during the pandemic. He gets slightly alarmed during a tour of the house when he comes across a gun. Reed assures everyone that it is just his father’s old hunting gun, and Mac adds that each household on the island has one. It’s necessary to defend themselves if the need should arise. They may be isolated for now, but who knows. Plus, there are those superstitions about what may still exist on Fever Island.

Lucy learns that Reed’s old girlfriend, Becky, died on the island --- not from the virus as she previously had thought, but from drowning in the bog around Sea Witch Cove. It was as if she was lured there after reading the very same journals that Lucy plans to work on. When she finally makes her way to the huge library room that resembles a ship, with a full view of most of the island, Lucy dives into Dr. Harper’s journals. Reading through the passages is like a story within a story; they are so interesting and chilling that I never wanted them to end.

Dr. Harper set foot on Fever Island on June 10, 1848. His experiences included getting acquainted with the extremely ill inhabitants of the Stella Maris. There were nuns aboard caring for the sick who also came to the island, but they were not the ship’s most interesting residents. That would be Liadan, a young, silent Irish girl. Dr. Harper’s introduction to her was saving her as she fell overboard and making eye contact with her in the seaweed under the water where she seemed to be in her element. It almost felt like she was pulling him under.

One evening, the group decides to use the Ouija board. The planchette goes wild, spelling out: Not drowned, blood in the water, murderer, you you you. Reed takes this very personally as he believes it’s a message from one of his friends blaming him for Becky’s death. It also ominously foretells what’s to come on the island as history is about to repeat itself.

THE DISINVITED GUEST works on every level. Using the pandemic as a plot device is sheer brilliance, which helps make it an extremely frightening novel and one of the finest efforts of Goodman’s career (which is really saying something). The book will get under your skin and unsettle you in so many ways. It is an instant gothic classic yet written with the future in mind --- a future we still have not seen. This might be the most frightening idea of all.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on July 15, 2022

The Disinvited Guest
by Carol Goodman