Tess Little’s The Last Guest is a provocative mystery dripping with intrigue, perfect for armchair detectives.
The morning after an elite Hollywood director’s birthday party, he’s found dead by his own party guests. When the police rule his death a murder, all eight guests are under suspicion. Each has a motive and opportunity– who is responsible?
This novel is a slower paced mystery that lets the reader puzzle out the whodunnit. Clues are doled out with care, as the night slowly unspools. Though this thought provoking novel is a mystery, I didn’t find it suspenseful. I’m a great big scaredy cat, and found the mystery interesting without also finding myself jumpy or easily startled.
The novel opens on the morning of the body’s discovery, and the ensuing story is told is told in alternating timelines of the investigation after the party and the narrator’s memories of the event. Our narrator is Elspeth Bryant Bell, a former actress and the ex-wife of the deceased director. As her memories are picked apart by herself and the police, we see memories of other events in her life and how they intersect with that fateful night. She serves as an unreliable narrator, as uncertain in her memories as she is in her day to day life and decisions.
The Last Guest has a wide cast of characters, vividly described and easy to keep separate in the reader’s mind. The suave French actress and her young co-star– currently featured in the director’s last film– a likable crew member, a pair of schoolboy friends, an investor, the current love interest, and the ex-wife narrator are the party guests turned suspects. Each suspect is introduced to Elspeth at the party, and we get to see them gradually illuminated. And, of course, we can’t forget the Giant Pacific Octopus held captive in her tank, the most mysterious guest of all.
While this mystery has plenty of puzzles to piece together and clues to pick apart, it also tackles the difficulty of moving on from trauma and dealing with the lifelong effects of abuse. Other themes include familial relationships and grief, both of which are handled with the delicate care they deserve. Multifaceted and complicated people are just as difficult to mourn as they are to live with, a fact this mystery explores deeply.
Although the pacing was a bit slower than I typically prefer, I just had to know how this book ended. I found myself rehashing the clues, even when my nose wasn’t in the book at the moment, and I know I’ll continue processing this plot and picking apart these characters in my mind for weeks to come. This is the kind of book you want to read with a group so you have someone to talk about it with, and would make a great book club pick. I can definitely see it being chosen as a celebrity book club pick, and is sure to incite deep discussion by those who’ve read it.
Thank you to NetGalley, Ballantine Books/RandomHouse Publishing, and the author for this advanced copy such that I could write this review. All opinions are my own.
The Last Guest by Tess Little will be available October 5, 2021.