The Uninvited Guests, by Sadie Jones

The Uninvited Guests
Emerald Torrington-Swift could never have imagined than her twentieth birthday party would end up like this. I certainly wasn't expecting what happened. The Uninvited Guests, by Sadie Jones, begins on an ordinary day in 1912 and ends the next morning with the families' lives turned upside down.

The unhappy Torrington-Swift clan lives in remote Sterne, a country house that is costing them much more money than they can afford. Edward Swift, the new patriarch is travelling into Manchester for the day, to beg a loan from a hated industrialist to save the old pile. Emerald is left behind to make sure the family doesn't disgrace themselves in front of their guests. Her mother is a rude nouveau riche. Her brother, Clovis, is even worse. Her younger sister, Smudge, uses the opportunity of everyone's distraction to take a horse up to her room to make a portrait. Meanwhile, the reduced number of servants has to make up a respectable birthday dinner.

And then, Emerald receives word that a large number of survivors of a nearby train crash is about to descend upon them in need of food and lodging until they can be sent on to their destinations.

The Uninvited Guests begins as an Edwardian comedy of manners, but it soon becomes clear that there is something more sinister going on. One of the survivors of the train crash, a man whose name keeps slipping everyone's mind, inveigles his way into the birthday party. His sense of humor is sharp and frequently cuts the other guests. He hints at dark secrets. And his effect on the lady of the house, Emerald's mother Charlotte, is positively devastating.

Then things get strange.

At the beginning of The Uninvited Guests, I was amused by Jones' prickly and unexpected humor. It's as if the characters know they're all playing parts in a big charade, but they have to keep playing just so that they don't let the side down. Everyone has to keep up appearances because, heavens, what would the neighbors think if they found out about the true state of the Torrington-Swifts' state of affairs?

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