In Tess Little's energetic debut, The Last Guest, a manipulative movie director's murder sets off a solid locked-room mystery about gossip, hatred and fear. Using the backdrop of Hollywood machinations, the novel also looks at how bonds between a teenager and her parents can differ.
Former actress Elspeth Bryant Bell agrees to attend the 50th birthday party of her ex-husband, director Richard Bryant, only for the sake of their 19-year-old daughter, Lillie. Elspeth dreads seeing her despicable ex-husband, but she wants to support her daughter, who appears in Richard's latest movie. Instead of the "sprawling carnival" Richard usually throws, he has invited only nine people, but Lillie is a no-show. The next morning, Richard appears to have overdosed, which police quickly rule a murder. The guests--each of whom the overbearing Richard often publicly humiliated--are suspects, as no one else entered or left the mansion during the evening.
Elspeth's concern for Lillie adds a strong secondary plot, as she tries to give comfort while being careful not to speak ill of Richard, who didn't know how to be a husband or a father. The young woman loved both her parents, overlooking Richard's controlling attitude and neglect. Little delves into the background of each supporting character, though a couple fade into the background. The Last Guest also illustrates why people put up with a toxic workplace, scared not just of losing a job but of being ostracized in a career.
Clever plotting delivers a fitting end inspired by movie making. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer