Book: Do Not Disturb
Author: Claire Douglas
Publication Info: 2020, Harper Paperbacks
Genres: Thriller/Suspense, Family/Domestic Drama, Mystery/Crime
My Rating: 2-2.5 stars. 3.78 average on Goodreads
Following a traumatic event in London, Kirsty Woodhouse packs up her family and moves back to her native Wales. There she sets up her new home with her husband and two young daughters, and goes into business with her difficult mother managing a guesthouse in the Brecon Beacons.
But when the guesthouse is ready to be occupied, Kirsty encounters the last person she ever expected to see: her estranged cousin Selena. It has been seventeen years since they last talked—when Selena tore everything apart between them.
Why has she chosen now to walk back into Kirsty’s life? Is Selena running from something too? Or is there an even darker reason for her visit?
As Kirsty becomes increasingly concerned for the safety of her daughters, her dream home begins to feel like her worst nightmare.
Kirsty knows that once you invite trouble into your home, it can be murder getting rid of it . . .
This is my second thriller of 2022. It’s also another 2-2.5 star read, which is unfortunate; however, this book has some strengths among its weaknesses which may make it a good fit for a different reader. In fact, some of the strengths were good enough to make me push through to the end.
One Thing I Loved Right Off the Bat: I was really excited to read a book set in Wales. You just don’t often come across that very often, and I try to catalogue as many as I come across on Goodreads. However, the setting could have been anywhere touristy; the main character and narrator is native Welsh so that’s cool.
Essentially, this is a very slow burn, family/domestic drama, with elements of past secrets/lies uncovered, and with a sprinkle of paranormal spookiness. Everyone is meant to be suspicious, from the criminal ex-boyfriend to the narrator’s reclusive husband recovering from a mental breakdown.
The story is based on the premise of the core characters (a mom, dad, 2 kids, and grandmother) moving to Wales to take up ownership of a derelict guest house. A lot of time is spent fixing up the place, which doubles as introducing the characters’ temperaments to the reader. Kirsty is the main character and narrator, wife to Adrian, and mother to 2 children. She is the daughter of Carol, a critical and nitpicky woman who goes in on the guest house as co-owner.
Long story short, the book follows a timeline wherein each chapter begins with a countdown to understanding the opening — Carol with bloody hands over a body, identity undisclosed. A lot of time is spent characterizing the guest house as haunted, bad-spirited, in poor condition, and unwanted in the community. Dead flowers are found and one guest often reports the bad spirits to Kirsty, claiming she can connect with the paranormal.
Despite this, Carol arranges for a troublesome family member, Selena, to stay in the guesthouse despite a lot of pushback from Kirsty. Selena is Kirsty’s cousin and childhood close friend, but they had a falling out (no spoilers why). She doesn’t want to see her, but it’s revealed that there is a domestic violence situation she’s running from so they allow her an her disabled daughter to come stay. After Selena and her daughter arrive, it’s clear that she brings trouble with her, but is attempting to lay low for awhile.
In the meanwhile, the rest of the cast of characters, including the 2 daughters and Adrian, fiddle around in the background. The daughters adjust to their new home, with the younger finding a creepy doll in the floorboards which spurs on the haunting/paranormal storyline. It is revealed that Adrian is dealing with mental health issues and spends most of his time being a bit reclusive at the start of the book writing a thriller novel (thus, adding to his suspicious characteristics). Guests and members of the small community also come in and out of the plot, as well as some hired workers.
Mid-Point: Anyway, a good chunk of the post-Selena arrival fixates on 1) Selena’s past and lying nature; 2) Selena’s sickly daughter; 3) attempts to run the guesthouse; 4) the arrival of another surprise family guest, Nathan and his wife; 5) the arrival of a dark character and ex-boyfriend from Selena’s past, Dean.
There’s a lot of talk about family drama. Then the thing happens. It is revealed who was dead at the bottom of the stairs at the start.
After the thing happens, the plots begin to intertwine and the secrets come to the forefront.
Spoilers after this point because I’ll be talking about specific plot points & twists. Also, there is some CW/TW worthy content discussed below. See the bottom of this blog post for the list.
A strength of this book was one or two of the plot lines that I thought were interesting enough to want to read through to find the resolution. One of these was the itching feeling that Selena was putting on her daughter’s (Ruby) sicknesses. Ruby was portrayed as a sickly, underdeveloped and unsociable child; however, the constant reiteration of the narrator’s claims that Selena was a total liar about everything made it seem highly possible that this was “Munchausen syndrome by proxy.” This is furthered by the introduction of a trusted doctor character in the family (Nathan’s wife) who can just be like, yep, well. I saw the notes & I can see the child….
Either way, there is a running rift between Kristy and Selena which is predicated upon an exchange they had as teenagers. In the flashback description of what happened, Selena is portrayed as a compulsive liar who is living within an abusive environment (her mother is a chronic alcoholic and there is implied/explicit abuse/neglect). As they are preparing to go off to college, Selena and Kristy have a row at a party. Selena drops a bomb of a revelation on Kristy and claims that she has been sexually abused by her own father.
Kristy does not believe this due to her uncle’s character and Selena’s inclination to lie. It causes a chasm in their relationship and Selena becomes estranged from the family…. except she wasn’t really… because as it turns out, Carol (Kristy’s mother) has been keeping in contact with her for ages and keeping a few secrets for her.
Anywaaaaaay. Really, this review is almost as boring as this book was. I thought that it was interesting to see the Ruby sickness plot reveal. However, the characters were pretty dry, the guesthouse-should’ve-been-ours! red herring plot was just…. really boring, and the men were just unenjoyable all around.
My biggest problem was the pace. It was an incredibly slow burn, almost like this review. A lot of information being dropped and you don’t really know what’s going to be useful or necessary later on. Well, none of it really. Selena is pushed or falls down the stairs. The doctor wife can’t get pregnant. All the rooms have similar names. A guest has a dog! Okay? Well, none of this has much to do with anything. More and more gets heaped on to the slow burning fire. Eventually, when something does ignite, it wasn’t worth standing in the smoke.
Also, the revelation about what really happened to Selena reminds me of a Ruth Ware book’s ending as well.
Anyway, give it a go maybe. It has really good reviews from others, but I can’t say it was entertaining on the whole for me. A lot of other stuff out there that does thriller/suspense with a bigger bang. One caveat I’ve noticed is that negative reviews for this book tend to say that the other books by this author are really great. So maybe it’s just one those things.
Things You Should Know
If you are the type of person who would like to know content warnings before reading a book of this nature, I would say the following things are important to note (some are spoilers): death/murder, abuse (sexual, emotional, violence), sexual abuse from parental figure (not true but mentioned), alcoholic parent, abusive mother, neglect, infidelity, infertility, suicide, stalker / abusive partner, domestic abuse (not true, but still mentioned), Munchausen syndrome by proxy / medical problems (not real but still mentioned).