“The Guest Room” by Chris Bohjalian is a fast-paced mystery thriller. It is also an excellent portrayal of a family in crisis dealing with the consequences of one violent night. It raises the issues of sex trafficking and explores how young girls are forced into this sordid life.
Richard Chapman is an affluent investment banker, happily married with a nine-year-old daughter. His younger brother, Philip, is more fun-loving and wild. Richard sometimes thinks his brother is just a frat boy who has never grown up. But now Philip is 35 and engaged to be married.
Richard reluctantly agrees to host his brother’s bachelor party. Kristen, Richard’s wife, is not very fond of Philip, but she agrees to vacate the house for the evening, taking her daughter to her mother’s apartment in New York.
Before the evening is over two men are dead, and the Chapmans’ idyllic life has been shattered.
In the middle of the night, Richard calls Kristen to tell her what happened. There had been two strippers in their home consorting with many of the guests. Then one of the girls pulled out a knife and killed one of their Russian bodyguards. The second bodyguard was shot and the two girls have fled. There is blood everywhere and Richard is at the police station.
As the story unfolds the reader is drawn into the life story of one of the strippers, Alexandra. She lives with her mother and grandmother in Yeravan, Armenia. She loves ballet and has a normal life, but when her mother dies, her grandmother is unable to take care of her. Alexandra is taken by her mother’s employer, who turns out to be a Russian mob boss. He systematically destroys her family and forces Alexandra into prostitution at the age of 15.
The Russian bodyguards are actually their captors and Alexandra and a friend, also being held, sense they are about to be killed. They flee to New York City, and find themselves hiding from gangsters as well as the police.
Richard and Kristen are reeling from the scandal and notoriety, and their marriage is in jeopardy as Kristen wonders if Richard was one of the men who had sex with the girls.
By sharing with readers Alexandra’s Armenian heritage and life before being abducted into sex slavery, the author reinforces the emotional impact of the story.
This is a suspenseful novel that will move readers to think about front-page issues.
The author relied on nonfiction accounts, which he cites in his afterword. For more information visit: castla.org, which is the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking.