The Guest Room by Tasha Sylva

Reviewed by Rod McLary

This debut novel by Tasha Sylva delves into the consequences of searching through property which doesn’t belong to you.

Tess Hartley is grieving for the death of her sister Rosie who was murdered by an unknown assailant.  In an attempt to assuage her grief and loneliness, Tess has moved into Rosie’s flat and lets out the second bedroom to bnb guests.  She also roams the streets at night in order to tempt Rosie’s murderer into the open – misguided and dangerous certainly but personal expressions of grief are inexplicable.

Alongside Tess’s roaming the streets is her compulsion to look through the belongings of her bnb guests – knowing that at any moment she could be discovered but it is the thrill of being somewhere she shouldn’t which drives her to continue with her compulsion.

Told in the first person by Tess – interspersed with anonymous diary entries – The Guest Room  is a study in grief and obsession, and the risks and consequences of drawing false conclusions from little information.  Her latest guest Aaran – ‘handsome and inscrutable’ – fascinates Tess and when her clandestine searches disclose his diary which is hidden in a different place each day, she cannot resist reading it.  Driven by her loneliness, she begins to read in the diary descriptions of incidents which she increasingly believes are referring to her.  This, coupled with her ongoing fear that the police are not doing enough to find her sister’s killer, leads her to see the killer – or someone who could be him – everywhere.  From Luke in the flat above, Eliot downstairs, Ivy a frequent visitor, Paul who has left the flats, and most of all Oliver who was Rosie’s erstwhile boyfriend, all are seen at one time or another the possible killer.

The author skilfully paints the portrait of a woman driven almost mad by grief and suspicion – and misreading what is right in front of her.  When Tess finally understands who is the subject of Aaran’s diary and how the other residents of the flats actually fit into her imagined reality, mayhem and violence ensue.

Ultimately, Tess – and the reader – can fit all the pieces together to reach some understanding of what transpired before and after Rosie’s death.

The author has crafted a well-paced psychological thriller which will have most readers unable to put the book down for very long.  While it is tempting to shout through the pages to Tess to just leave the investigating to the police, the reader will have some sympathy for her as she struggles with her grief, her alienation from her parents, and her increasing isolation from her friends.  And it is this struggle which gives the novel its central point – all the action flows from Tess’s attempts to undo the past and reclaim her sister and her life.

It is a fine thriller which is recommended to all aficionados of psychological crime novels.

Tasha Sylva lives in the south-west of England.  The Guest Room – her first novel – was inspired by various times she had stayed in BnBs and strangers’ homes wondering whether the owners were going through her belongings when she out – and what implications could flow from that intrusion.

The Guest Room


by Tasha Sylvia

Welbeck Publishing

ISBN 978 180279 672 8

$32.99; 399pp

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