Knock, Knock. Who’s There? Trouble.

With her highly anticipated thriller The House Guest launching next week, Hank Phillippi Ryan is on the site today to discuss what makes outside guests—visitors inside your home—such a compelling element in crime fiction.

What is it about someone showing up at your house carrying a suitcase? Do you hear the Jaws music? There’s nothing quite as illustrative of what “point of view” means as when you view your home through the eyes of a guest. Why did you not see the spider webs on the chandelier? Why did you not see the paint peeling in the bathroom? Why didn’t someone get rid of all those newspapers and magazines?

Even worse—when someone comes to stay at your home, every inch of your privacy is under siege.

Knock, knock. Who’s there? Trouble.

Some years ago—and I am keeping this very vague—some relatives came to stay for a weekend. All good, adorable kids, adorable relatives, and we’re lucky to have a place on our third floor that’s lovely and homey. With a door that closes. Perfect. 

The first morning I awoke to a funny noise. It sounded like… water. It was water. Dripping into the second-floor hallway by way of the ceiling. Above the ceiling was the bathroom of the third floor. Where the guests were. The facilities of which were overflowing, and apparently had been overflowing for some time. During which our guests decided not to bother us. We laugh about it. Now. 

And in book world, you’ve probably heard the pronouncement that there are only two plots:  a stranger comes to town, or someone goes on a journey. But. If you make that more specific, the plots become more personal—either a person goes into someone else’s home, or someone comes into theirs. And therein lies the plot. 

Because at that moment, that moment of entry, something changes. The equilibrium is upset. The balance of power is altered. And absolutely something has to happen. 

In my new psychological thriller, The House Guest, the broken-hearted and bereft Alyssa Macallen is shocked and baffled when her rich, powerful, and oh-so-manipulative husband Bill walks out on her. Bill is about to take the house, and the money, and all the friends. Alyssa is alone. And truly terrified. But when she makes the acquaintance of a young woman who seems to have even more problems than she does—well no, Alyssa doesn’t instantly invite her to stay over, who would do that? She’s a smart woman. She’s seen the movies.

But the next day, she does invite her. Not to stay in Alyssa’s own house (see smart woman, above), but in the separate guest house back by the pool.

Because I never use an outline, I did not know what would happen next. But some have labeled my book Gaslight meets Thelma and Louise meets Strangers on a Train. So that might give you some idea of what I eventually figured out. (You might be wrong, though that’s the Gaslight part.)

So, think about having—or being—a house guest.  Someone arrives with all of their baggage, personal and emotional. But a houseguest can be hilarious. They can be tragic. Or they can be terrifying.

Hilarious?  When “acerbic and acid-tongued” author and radio star Sheridan Whiteside slips on the ice outside ditzy society matron Daisy Stanley’s Ohio home, the doctor orders him not to leave. And then, in the 1942 tour de farce (not a typo!) The Man Who Came to Dinner (by Kaufman and Hart), the demanding and self-centered mogul takes over a family’s whole life. With much hilarity, and even a happy ending, but it wouldn’t be so funny if he’d moved in on you. 

Terrifying? Tippi Hedren brings those lovebirds into Rod Taylor’s house in The Birds, and that was the first mistake. Tippi has to stay over, and her lovebirds are bringing lots of friends. 

Tragic? Bringing friends was also the downfall of King Lear, who tried to move in with his selfish daughter Goneril. She was not the most pleasant host, but any homeowner would be distressed when a guest arrives with hundreds of soldiers and horses.

(And I can’t resist including, in what is possibly the first time Lear has been juxtaposed with laughter: Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, who come to stay overnight in The Wedding Crashers.)

But in each case, the visitor not only brings a suitcase, they bring a story.

Some of my favorite authors have embraced a house guest, too. And a brilliant lineup of thriller stars have used that guest to introduce the element of disequilibrium to their stories.

In Heather Gudenkauf’s chillingly wonderful The Overnight Guest, the main character finds a child, almost frozen in a raging blizzard…and she brings them inside. Oops.

Megan Miranda’s super-twisty The Last House Guest brings a wealthy young summer guest to a New England vacation enclave, where one local resident befriends her. And then one of them is found dead. 

Andrea Bartz puts a truly sinister throuple spin on the visitor in her upcoming The Spare Room. Sure, the guest is a friend in need. Problem is, in need of what?

Robin Morgan Bentley does an amazing high-wire act in the shocking The Guest House. And don’t let the title fool you—yes, the house is scary. But the guests are, too.

And I cannot wait for the new thriller from B. A. Paris called The Guest. Oooh. When an unexpected guest—a dear friend—arrives at their place in crisis, of course Iris and Gabriel take her in. And whoa, as it turns out, she’s bringing some sinister baggage. Cannot wait to read this.

It’s always safe inside a book, of course, so here’s a thought. Perhaps you should put The House Guest on your guest room nightstand. Not only as an entertainment—but also, perhaps, as a gentle warning.

Enter for your chance to win a copy of The House Guest!


About The House Guest by Hank Phillippi Ryan:

After every divorce, one spouse gets all the friends. What does the other one get? If they’re smart, they get the benefits. Alyssa Macallan is terrified when she’s dumped by her wealthy and powerful husband. With a devastating divorce looming, she begins to suspect her toxic and manipulative soon-to-be-ex is scheming to ruin her―leaving her alone and penniless. And when the FBI shows up at her door, Alyssa knows she really needs a friend.

And then she gets one. A seductive new friend, one who’s running from a dangerous relationship of her own. Alyssa offers Bree Lorrance the safety of her guest house, and the two become confidantes. Then Bree makes a heart-stoppingly tempting offer. Maybe Alyssa and Bree can solve each others’ problems.

But no one is what they seem. And the fates and fortunes of these two women twist and turn until the shocking truth emerges: You can’t always get what you want. But sometimes you get what you deserve.

Learn More Or Order A Copy


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    This book sounds fantastic!

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    I love your books and you!! Great info! Thanks!

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    Sounds like a fantastic book!

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    Hank is fun to listen to and she writes terrific books.

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    Hank is an amazing thriller writer, and I won’t want to miss any of her books! The House Guest already sounds intriguing and suspenseful!

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