Rachel, working a dead-end job at a garden centre, is mindlessly scrolling Instagram. And then she sees something which makes her sit up. She quits her job, ends her lease, and moves to London – intent on finding the family she saw in the photo.
And as luck would have it, she does. The Allerton-Joneses are browsing a bookshop in their native Kensington, and Rachel engineers the perfect accidental meeting. From then on, she steadily ingratiates herself into their inner circle. But such a manoeuvre is not without its challenges. Whilst Matthew and Charlie Allerton-Jones are from the upper-echelons of British society, the very definition of being born with a silver spoon, Rachel’s meagre savings stretch to renting on a scary housing estate in Pimlico. Their fine dining and housekeeper-cooked meals contrast sharply with her discount Sainsbury’s pizzas. But Rachel knows she has to persevere with her plan, whatever the cost.
‘It’s a mirage. A charade. Stacks of money in concrete form, that’s all. Rows of houses filled with people who haven’t a clue about the horrors of this world.’
This domestic noir opens with a brutal murder, I should mention. When we first meet our protagonists, one of them is dead – and another holding a knife. But it will take the unspooling over the course of the novel to find out the how, and the why, behind this attack.
The pacing is steady, and I was engrossed in the plot and the cast of complex characters. The way that B P Walter deftly managed the twists and turns in the plot was one of the novel’s greatest strengths, divulging and withholding information at exactly the right pace to keep the reader engaged. I found the exploration of the lives of the mega-wealthy and what goes on behind the façade of respectability to be one of the most interesting things about this novel. It gives you a window into how such people live (Charlie name drops dinner with a past Prime Minister, garden parties with a verifiable Lord and Lady), and to just what extent that contrasts with the life Rachel leads. And – importantly – how money and connections enable the rich to act with impunity.
‘Back then, I’m not sure I ever felt guilty, knowing where a portion of our income came from. I’m not sure. You see, when you’re brought up being told certain things are the way of the world, it becomes very hard to question them when you’ve just accepted them for so long. And I’m not sure it bothers me much now.’
A very solid addition to the domestic noir genre, and highly recommended for anyone looking for an engrossing thriller with a bit more substance. My only gripe would be the way this is marketed – it’s not really appropriate to name drop Donna Tartt or to try to market this towards fans of a literary thriller. The title and tagline would also suggest that the dinner is a central point of this thriller – when that’s very much not the case, and the key plot points of the novel span the course of several decades. I hope that readers can go in with the right expectations and enjoy this gripping read for what it is.
With thanks to HarperCollins for the advanced copy. The Dinner Guest will be published on 27th May 2021.