If you like your Christmas tales to be wholesome and filled with happiness and joy, Peter Swanson’s The Christmas Guest is not the book for you. With this novella, Swanson casts a hypnotizing spell over the reader with a plot that is equal parts gripping narrative and disturbing psychological study. Because it is a streamlined novella—with not a wasted word—it can be easily consumed in one sitting and is probably best if experienced in that way. Allow yourself to be bewitched by Peter Swanson’s craft and you will never think of those college Christmas getaways in the same idealized manner ever again.

The Christmas Guest tells the story of Ashley Smith, an American student studying abroad in London. When the Christmas break comes, she plans to stay alone on campus until her friend Emma Chapman invites her to come spend the holiday gap at her family estate, Starvewood Hall. Despite not feeling that her friendship with Emma was at a level for such an invitation, Ashely would prefer not to spend the holiday isolated and alone, so she accepts.

Once at the British manor home, Ashley finds herself transfixed by Emma’s older brother, Adam. This leads to a whirlwind romance, of a sort. Small pieces of the puzzle are not adding up and Ashley now finds herself captive to her own lustful feelings and to the odd family who so willingly opened their door to her.

Most of the 93 pages of The Christmas Guest are devoted to diary entries that recount the happenings at Starvewood Hall that December in 1989. This written account is bookended by more contemporary sections set in 2019. It is in these sections where readers begin to understand what exactly happened thirty-years prior.

This is a Christmas tale, so all the trimmings one would expect are included—the snow, the gifts, fireside chats, meals of companionship and reflection—but Peter Swanson also fills the manor house with secrets, emotions, and just possibly murder.

Fans of Peter Swanson’s excellent novel-length works will find much to enjoy in The Christmas Guest. It is the perfect stocking stuffer for the readers in your life or perhaps you just want to purchase a treat for yourself to enjoy after a long day of holiday prep.

BUY LINKS: The Christmas Guest by Peter Swanson