I was looking for something different to follow some fairly dark, intense books when I came across Jones’ The Uninvited Guests. I got different alright! Expecting an Edwardian comedy/drama, I felt I was reading an episode from Rod Serling’s Night Gallery.
Emerald Torrington is turning 20 and there is to be a birthday party for her. She is typical of her class and upbringing (think of Downton’s Lady Mary) as is her older brother, Clovis. Their fairly selfish and maternally casual mother, Charlotte, has remarried after their father’s death to a man they feel is beneath them. The youngest member of the family is Imogen, aka Smudge, a child basically raising herself with intermittent notice and kindnesses by family and staff.
Edward, Charlotte’s husband, has gone to try to save Sterne, their home, from being sold and is out of the picture. When Clovis and a groom drive to the station to pick up the party guests, they return with news of a train wreck nearby and that survivors will have to be housed at Sterne.
As the dazed, dirty crowd appears at their doors, none of the family or invited guests seems able to grasp what is needed beyond corralling them in a room and hoping someone will come to take them away soon. Then appears Charles Traversham-Beechers, another survivor, who is unwilling to stay with the others and insinuates himself into the birthday celebrations. Definitely not a gentleman, he manages to mesmerize them all (except Smudge!) into accepting his presence and following his lead in a bizarre, cruel game.
To say more would tip into spoiler territory, but rest assured this 24 hour long tale has wonderfully quirky characters and a truly satisfying conclusion.