The Overnight Guest: A Novel
Wylie Lark is holed up in Iowa at a secluded farm so she can work uninterrupted while penning her fourth true-crime book. With no internet or television and her recently dropped cell phone, now destroyed, she is isolated. She hopes the remote location will help her focus on her writing and take her mind off her 14-year-old son, Seth, with whom she is now estranged and who lives with his father in Oregon. Though the house has landline service, she hesitates to call Seth, fearing a reprimand from her ex.
What is bizarre—this house was the scene of a crime 20 years ago where a husband and wife, along with their son, were murdered. Josie, the 13-year-old daughter, escaped, and her best friend, Becky, disappeared and has yet to be located.
Why has Wylie come to this place? Does she hope its sinister past will allow her creative juices to flow to improve her book? Or does the macabre attract her? With all the facts regarding this crime and the killer's identity gathered, now it's just a matter of getting everything put together so she can send it to her publisher.
Wylie's only company is a stray elderly coonhound she calls Tas and a canine she more or less adopted when she found him lurking by the front door. The two barely accept each other, but at least Wylie can talk to them.
A horrific blizzard ensues, and Wylie finds herself confined inside. Yet one day when she lets Tas out to do his business, she is concerned when he does not return, which is unlike him. Temperatures have plummeted, the wind is fiercely blowing, and the snow is pelting down. Fearing the dog may be in trouble, she meanders out into the almost white-out in search of him. Overhearing Tas whimpering, she discovers the pooch guarding a half-conscious young child lying on the ice. She brings the kid inside to warm him up and offer safety from the elements. As he revives, Wylie asks him questions: What is your name? Where is your mom? How did you get here? But he doesn't answer.
After getting him settled, she searches for a parent or friend who may have been caring for him. She notices a truck on fire down the end of the deserted road. Rushing to it, she spots the vehicle upside-down in a ditch, and a woman stuck and hanging from a barbed-wire fence. Shrugging off her jacket to place over the frozen woman, Wylie heads back home. She checks on the boy and grabs another coat for herself before heading to the barn for a wire cutter.
"Wylie dreaded stepping back into the storm, but the clock was ticking.
"With renewed determination, Wylie left behind the warm house. The storm continued to rage. It felt as if the wind was coming at her from all directions. . . .
. . . ."Though the snow was blinding, and the wind was scrubbing away any sign of her earlier tracks, Wylie at least had a good sense as to where she was headed."
The problem is when Wylie arrives where the woman had been, she is gone. How could she have untangled herself from the fence? Where could she have gone?
She cannot find the youngster back at the house. Her search brings her to her bedroom. The boy is sitting with his back to the door, gripping Wylie's 9mm gun. Scared and angry, Wylie orders him to put it down and reprimands him about touching the weapon. The frightened boy crawls under the bed, causing Wylie to be ashamed for yelling at him.
She coaxes him out, tells him she found the truck, and asks if his mother was driving it, saying she'll continue to search when the weather dies down—that is, if the woman hasn't already been rescued or perished from the cold.
When the power goes out, Wylie goes to the barn for more wood for the stove. Hearing some rustling, she wonders if the woman made is there, but why doesn’t she come to the house? Seeing the woman’s shadow, Wylie chases after her, only to discover she is inside the house at the back door with a hatchet in her hands. And the door is locked! Wylie screams to be allowed in, but getting no response, she breaks the window, managing to unlock the door. Plodding through the dark, she spies the woman and boy sitting on the couch. When the woman wields the hatchet, Wylie pushes her away, and in her weakened condition, she succumbs after Wylie insists she means no harm.
Trying to attain information from either the woman or child is almost impossible, but Wylie can see the woman is terrified. What has happened to her? To the boy? Are they running from someone?
This terrifying tale contains three parts: present day in which Wylie is putting together her manuscript; 20 years ago when this horrific crime occurred; and finally the intervening years and what has taken place during that time. The author portrays these sequences to wrap up the whole situation in a tidy package, meshing the sections together while delving deeper into the tale. This book is somewhat problematic, for it is challenging to understand how these three sequences fit.
The Overnight Guest grabs one's attention with its detailed and concise events of a terror that could conceivably happen.