1912 – The kitchens of Sterne, a crumbling English manor, are bustling to create a splendid supper for Emerald Torrington’s twentieth birthday. The guests invited include Emerald’s fading femme fatale mother Charlotte, broody brother Clovis, impish but neglected little sister Smudge, childhood friends Patience and Ernest, and eligible bachelor John Buchanan. However, when a horrific railway accident occurs nearby, Sterne is forced to play host to the survivors, a miserable band of lower-class sufferers who throw all plans into chaos and among whom lurks a gentleman whose upper-class appearance belies his malevolent spirit.
Well, a Gothic mystery tinged with the supernatural and set in the historical – sounds right up my alley! The gorgeous cover fits Sadie Jones’ The Uninvited Guests extraordinary well, mirroring a scene in which Charlie (the lurking “gentleman”) spies on Emerald attempting to call the railway for answers while also sufficiently adding to the creepy atmosphere.
I did like most of the characters, despite their upper-crust snobbery, but the shortness of the novel caused most of them to lack depth. Since I didn’t understand them fully, I wasn’t particularly attached to any of them so when a certain scene (i.e. the hounds game) exposed the horrific cruelty of their inner human nature, I wasn’t even upset. But I appreciated that they all bucked up in the end – on the whole, the cruelty was balanced by the concluding kindnesses.
The darkly comic tone and flowery Edwardian writing style fit the story well, but the plot was as crumbling as the manor itself. I can’t say the twist is particularly shocking, with the “survivors” actually having not survived the crash. But frustratingly their exact nature (ghosts? zombies?) was left unexplained as was the source of Charlie’s mysterious power.
It was not a very spine-tingling read and probably too bizarre for many readers, but if you can cheerfully throw reason out the door, it proves to be a suitable tale for a dark and stormy summer night that’s a little more literary than your average horror story.