The Last Guests, J.P. Pomare
J.P. Pomare won the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel with his debut CALL ME EVIE. Since then he's carved out a name for himself when it comes to precisely plotted, atmospheric, tense psychological thrillers populated by cleverly constructed characters, designed to keep readers guessing, disconcerted and utterly fascinated.
In THE LAST GUESTS he's combined high technology and human frailty to create a plot that takes readers into a careful examination of morality, via the avenues of voyeurism, trauma, exposure, trust, and the things we will (and won't do) for love. Through the interesting lens of the current day short term holiday rental craze.
Although, the twist here is that newlyweds, Lina and Cain, who are struggling financially, eventually agree to renting out her family's weekender house after lots of persuasion from him. She's reluctant - the house means a lot to Lina and her family, but it's all the rage at Lake Tarawera now, with their neighbours there already signing up renters.
Relations are strained between Lina and Cain - he's a returned soldier, struggling with many demons, hiding a lot of secrets some of which are very personal. She's not short of secrets of her own, and it's these secrets that threaten to come out, when in the process of readying the house for guests, a shadowy presence lurks, watching. The strange things that start to happen, end up in a deadly twist, and Lina starts to feel threatened and very vulnerable.
Pomare has never been frightened of taking on some tricky issues in any of this books thus far. Conflict, trauma, addiction and obsession are areas he's delved into before. In THE LAST GUESTS he's pushing those right into the strains that can happen in a marriage - adding infertility and financial pressure to the mess. Overlay the whole thing with cyber-voyeurism and the creepy feeling that comes from the idea that it could be so easy for somebody to stalk or spy on you these days, it's not going to be surprising if some readers will be carefully checking their houses whilst reading this novel.
In this outing, in particular, though, Pomare's provided readers with a real possibility of playing detective, although the diversions, red herrings and potential outcomes list is pretty big, and became all a bit too much for this reader, who quickly opted for a bit of "go with the flow" and frankly "I'm a bit too tense to be ticking boxes and creating incident boards" here.
If you're new to J.P. Pomare's work (CALL ME EVIE, IN THE CLEARING and TELL ME LIES are his earlier books), then you're fine to leap in here - they are all standalone stories. They are all also very good, and if you get THE LAST GUEST then you'll undoubtedly be searching out the earlier works.
Newlyweds Lina and Cain don't make it out to their vacation home on gorgeous Lake Tarawera as often as they'd like, so when Cain suggests they rent the property out on weekends, Lina reluctantly agrees. While the home has been special to her family for generations, their neighbors are all signing up to host renters, and frankly, she and Cain could use the extra money. What could go wrong? And at first, Lina is amazed at how quickly guests line up to spend a weekend--and at how much they're willing to pay.
But both Lina and Cain have been keeping secrets, secrets that won't be kept out by a new alarm system or a locked cupboard. When strange things begin happening on their property, and a visit takes a deadly turn, Lina becomes convinced that someone out there knows something they shouldn't--and that when they come for her, there will be nowhere left to hide.