‘Guests’ is a horror novella that punches above its weight. From the first page, I knew I was in the hands of a storyteller who knew his craft and I settled in to see where he would take me.
The story opens with a winter funeral and the numbness of a young man who has just lost the woman who raised him. The storytelling is unrushed but constantly moves forward, The focus is on the young man, Mark Callahan: his grief, his weaknesses, his fractured past and his doomed longing for a woman and a life that he can’t have.
As the snow storm builds outside, Mark, who can’t stand being alone in his dead grandmother’s house, agree to work one last shift in the under-staffed, run-down, once grand but never as grand as it had hoped to be, hotel that he has worked at for the past four years. Kealan Burke brings the hotel and the people who work there vividly to life as Mark preps for a shift that should be quiet. The hotel is empty in the face of the coming storm and would be shuttered except for a last-minute booking by a coach party.
By the time the coach party arrived, I was immersed in the dismal reality of Mark’s world. Then I met the old people in the coach party and the fear started to build.
I won’t give away the plot except to say that it’s clever, original enough to intrigue and familiar enough to fill me with foreboding, The tension mounts with every page, slowly, inexorably, like the loss of body heat. The action scenes work. The explanations are creepy. The people are credible and the surprises continue until the last page.
This is mostly low-key horror with some moments of intense violence, but the combination of a horrible idea with credible, relatable characters makes the story intense.
This is my first Kealan Patrick Burke story, but I’ll be looking for more.
Born and raised in a small harbor town in the south of Ireland, Kealan Patrick Burke knew from a very early age that he was going to be a horror writer. The combination of an ancient locale, a horror-loving mother, and a family full of storytellers, made it inevitable that he would end up telling stories for a living.
Since those formative years, he has written five novels, over a hundred short stories, six collections, and edited four acclaimed anthologies. In 2004, he was honored with the Bram Stoker Award for his novella The Turtle Boy.
2 thoughts on “‘Guests’ by Kealan Patrick Burke”
KPB is one of my favorites, but I haven’t read this one yet. I highly recommend The Tent, Sour Candy and one of his novels: KIN.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I’ll try Sour Candy next. I was put off Kin by the cannibal thing. Have you read Turtle Boy?