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The Overnight Guest


The Overnight Guest

Heather Gudenkauf has been on my must-read list for years. The comments Carol Fitzgerald made about THE OVERNIGHT GUEST in the Bookreporter newsletter got me even more excited than usual for her latest thriller. I am pleased to report that not only was I not disappointed, it is easily one of the most addictive novels I have read in quite a while.

Told in segmented fashion, bouncing between now and the year 2000, the book is a psychological puzzler that will pick away at your brain as you get pieces from both eras, leading you to the inevitable answers you require. Some of the best thrillers feature claustrophobic settings where the characters are trapped, making readers almost as uneasy as they are. Gudenkauf skillfully places her audience right there, especially in the scenes set in the present day.

"...easily one of the most addictive novels I have read in quite a while.... THE OVERNIGHT GUEST is A+ psychological reading material of the highest order."

On an extremely hot and humid Iowa night on August 12, 2000, one of the most horrific crimes to ever hit the small town of Burden is committed. Josie Doyle and her BFF, Becky Allen, are jumping on the trampoline outside Josie’s house during a sleepover when they hear shots that sound like fireworks. They take off running hand in hand, but Josie feels a sharp pain in her arm and lets go. She loses sight of Becky and keeps on running into the cornfield of her family farm. She would be the only member of her small family that night to make it out alive. Becky would disappear, never to be seen again.

While back home with her grandparents and the authorities, Josie wanders around the farm to visit her animals when she discovers the body of her 16-year-old brother, Ethan, strangled and buried in the hay in one of the stables. Now, with Ethan no longer a murder suspect and a possible kidnapper still out there, the police must cast a wider net for a killer who seemingly has left no clues.

This part of the novel is so compelling that I felt somewhat distracted when the story jumped back to the present. The old Doyle house is now rented out regularly and is currently being occupied by true crime writer Wylie Lark. Since Burden is such a small town, Wylie has not made it widely known that her next book is going to be based on the Doyle murders. Arriving at the height of a major snowstorm allows her to keep a low profile.

As she is settling in with her dog, Wylie spots something outside. She is shocked to find the nearly frozen body of a little boy, thankfully still breathing, and brings him inside to get warm. Unfortunately, the storm has knocked out the phones and Wi-Fi, so she can’t call for help until it passes. Later on, she spots a battered woman struggling against a barbed wire fence. Wylie tells her she found the child, who the woman claims is hers, and will retrieve a tool to help free her. But when Wylie returns, she is gone.

Shrewd readers or avid thriller fans will know this is probably not the last we see of this strange lady. However, your wheels will be turning trying to figure out who she and the boy are and the connection they may have to the brutal murders that took place over 20 years ago. You can try to figure it out, but I hazard to guess that Heather Gudenkauf may very well be one step ahead of you.

THE OVERNIGHT GUEST is A+ psychological reading material of the highest order. It is simply perfect for this winter when you might find yourself snowed in and hear tapping at your front door.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on January 28, 2022

The Overnight Guest
by Heather Gudenkauf