Sunday, November 2, 2014

Guest in the House: Review

She was never able to understand why it was that she hadn't the faintest foretaste of disaster until it was upon her. (p. 2)

Philip MacDonald does a bit of HIBK in a beach-side country house in California complete with nerve-wracking thunderstorm to usher in the mysterious titular guest of his suspense novel Guest in the House (1955). Mary and Jeff Gould have settled down in El Morro Beach so Jeff can earn his living as a Hollywood writer. But the Goulds are harassed by Mary's blackmailing ex-husband who threatens to invoke his parental rights over their nine-year old daughter if they don't cough up infusions of cash every time he demands it. And he's just decided to demand it again. If the Goulds won't come up to scratch, then he's going to demand that Sandy (the daughter) be handed over to him for the time he's missed in visitations--quite an accumulated bit of time. If only Mary had read the divorce agreement more closely. If only she had met with her lawyer as intended. If only...

First it was just a dark shape, full of undefined foreboding which lay like a heavy weight on her chest, so that she felt as if she couldn't breathe. The oppression fought with the padded feeling in her mind and won--and she sat suddenly upright as everything came back to her...(p.33)

About this time along comes Colonel Ivor Dalgleish St. Pelham St. George, ex-commando and a British officer with connections to Jeff's past. St. George is down-on-his-luck (and it's never explained exactly why he's pottering around the U. S.) and plans to "accidentally" drop in on his former war-time colleague for a bit help and a place to stay. Gould should be happy to help him, for Jeff is a man who quite literally owes St. George his life. When St. George sees the lay of the land, he comes up with a rather unique way of helping the Goulds deal with Mary's pesky ex.

MacDonald also moved to California and wrote screenplays for Hollywood and this effort, more than any of his work I've read so far, reads as though it would easily translate to film. Lots of tension and suspense--caused both by Mary's reluctance to tell her husband about the slimy ex's latest demands while Jeff is enjoying a reunion with his comrade-in-arms and by the slimy ex's strong arm tactics in an effort to force the Goulds to meet his terms. The final scenes--where St. George enacts his plans to put a stop to the slimy ex would make for a pretty nifty cinematic climax.

My only complaint is that there really isn't much mystery here...lots of suspense but no real detecting needed. A pleasant and quick read for a Sunday afternoon. ★★


fredamans said...

This seems like good reading during the month of November. Great review!

Katherine P said...

I'm glad to know going in that it's more suspense than mystery. This definitely sounds like a fun read - particularly on a stormy day. Thanks for sharing!

Yvette said...

I think MacDonald wrote THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER upon which the not too successful film was made starring George C. Scott and Kirk Douglas. I liked the film because I loved George C. Scott's character and believe it or not, the ending of the film is much better than the ending of the book. One of those rare times.

GUEST IN THE HOUSE sounds like it might be a good read for a winter evening as well as a Sunday afternoon.