The Overnight Guest
A novel by Iowa writer Heather Gudenkauf
By Dena Kurt
What do you do when you expect a typical , quick , goose-bump psychological thrill read and roller coaster your way through the pages as usual , only to reach the bumper at the end with the feeling that somewhere you must have taken a shortcut and missed out on the best part of the ride ? What you do is start over . Read the story the way it was meant to be read . Really take your time . Let the heat of an August night soak your shirt . Concentrate on how it feels to be caught off guard by an unexpected early spring snow storm , power out and roads icy . Get to know the difference between a Sturgeon Moon and a Buck Moon .
Start with Chapter 1 . Read it slowly . Move on to Chapter 2 . Read that slowly too . Stop . Take a breath and get ready . These two chapters form the bookends for The Overnight Guest . One is the guest looked forward to with anticipation . The other is the guest unexpected in the worst possible way . Between these two bookends lie the pieces to an intricate puzzle .
Heather Gudenkauf , an Iowa native and long-time Dubuque resident ( who recently moved to Cedar Rapids to be closer to her parents ) is loved by her readers for her willingness to share her insights . Known for her psychological thrillers , all set in Iowa and often based on real-life situations and events , The Overnight Guest , released in January of this year , is her ninth novel .
Unlike Gudenkauf ’ s previous novels , The Overnight Guest has three interconnecting storylines : the past , the present , and the story of a little girl and her mother . These three storylines and how they fit together become a compelling puzzle to solve .
Wylie Lane is a troubled true-crime writer who takes up temporary residence in an old isolated farmhouse somewhere north of Des Moines , IA to write about an unsolved crime that took place on the property in the year 2000 . She has a dog to keep her company , a fire to keep her warm , and silence to help her focus on her writing . The question is , what is compelling her to stay in a place where two murders took place and a young girl disappeared decades earlier ?
Tension mounts as an unexpected snow storm cuts off Wylie from the outside world and she discovers a young child in the snow when she goes out into the storm to get wood for the fireplace . What this child is doing in a remote farmyard in the middle of a snow storm is the mystery that Wylie must solve to find the answers she seeks , and to find healing and closure .
Heather ’ s use of foreshadowing , her careful choice of thematic elements , like weather and a homey wood fire , her detailed descriptions and her well-developed characters make for a riveting read . The cast of characters is a large one , so be sure to take your time to get to know them . These are the folks who make smalltown living in Heather ’ s novels either a joy or a burden . It is entertaining to match up the quirks and mannerisms of these folks of fiction with real-life counterparts .
One character this reader would have liked to see take a more prominent spot at the end of the novel is a man named Jackson Henley . At one point during the book he states , “ You won ’ t believe me . No one ever believes me .” This proves true to the very end of the book , when his is ignored and left out of the plot . Poor guy . He deserved better .
Gritty . Tough . Unflinching . Visceral . Loved . Unforgotten .
Heather reminds us that we must not forget the missing . They create empty holes in the lives and landscape of the living for decades to come . With persistence , some of those missing person cases can be resolved so that healing can begin .
To broaden your Iowa experience , be sure to read one of Heather ’ s novels . She has earned the respect of authors and readers across the United States , and deservedly so .
A warning to readers : There are some gory murder scenes and very raw and difficult themes explored as the pieces of the story fit together . These may prove too uncomfortable for some readers . •
34 365INK MAGAZINE May 26 – June 8 , 2022 Issue # 409 DUBUQUE365 . COM