by Ekta R. Garg
January 6, 2021
Release date: January 12, 2021
Rated: Bypass it / 2 stars
A teen forms a connection to a mysterious old house, only to have that connection broken in a horrifying way. Years later, a young actress is invited to the same house for an event and finds herself drawn to it for reasons she can’t explain. Author Emma Rous tries unsuccessfully to fashion a mystery out of separate plot pieces in her latest novel The Perfect Guests.
In the late 1980s, 14-year-old Beth Soames arrives at Raven Hall. The glorious old house stands in the East Anglian fens in England away from the city. Beth has been invited to stay with the Averell family; her aunt, Catherine, sets up the arrangement, although Beth can’t imagine how Catherine knows the Averells. Still, Raven Hall is a welcome change from the orphanage where she’s lived ever since the death of her parents and younger brother in a car crash.
At first, Beth approaches her time at Raven Hall with trepidation, worrying she’ll do something to make Leonora and Marcus Averell send her back to the orphanage. Their daughter, Nina, is her age and seems to welcome her, yet Beth senses hesitation on Nina’s part. As the weeks pass, Beth and Nina strike up a friendship but she still worries the Averells can turn her out whenever they want.
When Leonora and Marcus ask her to participate in a strange game, then, Beth can’t refuse. For the most part, they’ve treated her well. They’ve paid for her education and allowed her to become a part of their high-class, monied world. What harm could it do to go along with their request, bizarre as it may seem?
In London in 2019, struggling actress Sadie Langton receives an opportunity that intrigues her. She’s invited to a rambling mansion to take part in a murder mystery weekend. Apparently a company that hosts parties wants to test the weekend run with actors, and they’re going to pay well to do it.
Sadie could really use the money. Her mother has slipped away with almost no notice, leaving Sadie to deal with the bills and everything else. Sadie’s always felt distance from her mother, and this latest escapade doesn’t help. With nothing urgent tying her to the city, Sadie heads off to the fens.
She arrives at the mansion, called Raven Hall, and sees that while it may have been a grand estate at one time, it’s certainly suffered through the years. Neglect and damage make the house look worn. The place gives Sadie the shivers, but she has to admit it’s also the best location for a murder mystery.
As soon as the evening begins, however, it’s clear that things are not staying on track. Within hours of arrival, several of the other actors start to feel sick. Sadie begins to suspect that someone wants to hurt her and the others, but why? To what purpose? And why does she feel like she, in particular, is being targeted?
Author Emma Rous tries to pull together several different story pieces, but the end result feels disjointed. Beth’s story seems completely separate from Sadie’s; while sharp readers may guess early on the connections between them and the other characters, those connections feel forced. The story doesn’t unfold in an organic way.
The climax, too, seems shoehorned to fit a particular premise, but readers might be hard-pressed to pinpoint what the main premise is supposed to be. Should they focus on Beth? On Sadie? On the mysterious third narrator obsessed with Raven Hall who spends her time skulking around the property at an undisclosed time in the past?
Too many story elements will frustrate and bore readers. When the mystery unravels, it’s more of a relief that the book is finally coming to an end. I recommend readers Bypass The Perfect Guests.