Guest in the House (Philip MacDonald)

By Philip MacDonald

First published: US, Doubleday, 1955; UK, Jenkins, 1956.  Also published as No Time for Terror, Spivak 1956.;


My review

I wasn’t expecting this to be more than checking off the list, but it’s very good indeed.  It’s 1950s suspense—not detection, but situation-driven—the reader sympathises with the characters, and wants to know what will happen next.  What the book demonstrates is MacDonald’s screen-writing experience: dialogue and creation of character, build-up of tension, and pacing—in short, good story-telling.  We know the characters as much by people’s reactions to them (e.g., Sandra’s fear of Voss) as by their actions (the excellent scene where Voss gate-crashes the party, which is both social comedy and suspense)—three-dimensional, seen from different angles.  Two-thirds of the way through, and we don’t know for sure what direction the book will take: will Voss be the villain (kidnap Sandra), or the victim?  Very effective ambiguous ending— SPOILER has Colonel St. George slain the dragon and killed Voss, or has his bluff worked?
Would have been ideal for Hitchcock.  (Rebecca, of course, was filmed by Hitchcock from a MacDonald screenplay, so the two must have known each other.)