The Albatross by Charlotte Armstrong
From “the mistress of day-lit terror”: A couple invites two indigent women into their Hollywood home—and lives to regret it (The New York Times).
In a roadside Santa Clara motel, Tom and Esther Gardner wake up to an intruder lurching toward Esther’s bed in the dark. No one blames Tom for taking down the stranger with a single blow to the head—least of all the victim himself, an embarrassed real estate broker from Arcadia, too drunk to realize he’s stumbled into the wrong room. All is forgiven.
Three days later, the poor man drops dead of a neglected head injury—leaving his wife, Audrey, and her invalid sister, Joan, penniless and desperate. Overcome with guilt, Tom and Esther make amends by welcoming the grateful and unexpectedly forgiving ladies into their home. It’s just for the time being, after all. It’s the least the couple can do. But as the “temporary” stay stretches into months, Esther starts to feel the dreadful weight of their good deed and suspects their freeloading guests are up to something.
Audrey and Joan’s disquieting whispers are starting to sound conspiratorial, their stories aren’t adding up, and their smiles are beginning to curl with menace. Is it all in Esther’s overburdened imagination? Or is it terrifying reality?
With eight novels and nearly two dozen short stories adapted for film and television, it’s no wonder Edgar Award–winning author Charlotte Armstrong is considered “the American queen of suspense novelists” (New York Telegraph).
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