cover image The Christmas Guest: A Novella

The Christmas Guest: A Novella

Peter Swanson. Morrow, $19.99 (112p) ISBN 978-0-06-329745-6

Swanson (The Kind Worth Saving) does more with less in this punchy thriller that packs all the potency of his longer works. In 2019, an unnamed narrator decides to spend Christmas cleaning her New York City apartment. In the process, she rediscovers an “immediately recognizable” diary written by an American grad student in London named Ashley Smith, and flips to December 1989, a “murderous year” the narrator is hesitant to remember. The action then shifts to Ashley’s diary entries, recounting her invitation to the country home of her colleague, Emma Chapman, for the holidays. En route, she wonders if her time at the estate will feel like “a romance novel, or maybe a murder mystery.” It quickly becomes both: she’s met at the rail station by Emma’s hunky brother, Adam, and falls for him immediately, only to learn that he’s the prime suspect in the recent murder of a girl who looks exactly like Ashley. Swanson has plenty of knockout twists up his sleeve, but they never feel cheap, and he manages to build three-dimensional characters despite the brief page count. This is a perfect introduction to one of the cleverest talents in contemporary genre fiction. Agent: Nat Sobel, Sobel Weber Assoc. (Oct.)