I thank Harper Collins UK and NetGalley for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.
Lucy Foley is a new author to me but I was intrigued by the premise of the book, which promised to be a look back at the classics but with a modern touch. The format is easily recognisable (a group of people isolated in a somewhat strange setting, a crime, and the suspicions that fall on all those present). I had recently read The Glass Hotel and although they are set in very different locations (the hotel here is in the Scottish Highlands), there were some similarities in the isolation of the place, and in the motivations of some of the employees to seek such isolation, but this is a more conventional caper, where everybody hides secrets, dislikes and even hatreds, and there is a lot of emphasis placed on the relationship between the university friends who go on holiday together even though they no longer have much in common, and whom we get to know pretty well during the book.
There are plenty of lies, obscure motivations, relationships that are not what they seem to be, infidelity, popularity contests, friction between the so-called friends, and the book is told in two separate timeframes, one after the crime (although a bit like in Big Little Lies, we hear about the aftermath of the crime, but who the victim is doesn’t get revealed until almost the very end), and another that follows chronologically from the time when the friends set off towards their holiday destination. Eventually, both narratives catch up, and we get a full understanding of what has gone on. It’s a great strategy to keep readers guessing, and although I did have my suspicions of at least some of the things that were to come, I admit that there are some interesting red herring thrown into the works . Readers need to remain attentive to the changes in time frame to avoid getting confused as to when things have taken place, although this is clearly stated in the novel.
One of the problems some readers seem to have with the novel is that the characters are not terribly likeable. The story is narrated mostly from the point of view of several of the women: three of the female friends (Emma, the newest one to arrive in the group; Miranda, the Queen Bee who never quite lived up to everybody’s expectations; and Katie, Miranda’s best friend, the only single one, who seems to have outgrown the group in many ways ), and also Heather, the manager of the hotel, who has secrets of her own (and is one of the nicest characters)— all of them told in the first person—, and one man’s point of view, Doug, another employee of the hotel, although in his case we get a third-person account, and one marred by many of his personal difficulties (let’s say that he is not a very reliable narrator). Reading the events from several points of view helps us gain perspective and heightens our suspicions as to what might really be going on. I must agree that the characters, probably because we are privy to their internal thoughts rather than to others’ opinions of them, are difficult to like. Self-obsessed or obsessed with others, with random likes and dislikes, cruel, or unable to face the truth… none of them are people most of us would choose as friends. Considering this is a book about a group of friends, it does offer a particularly grim view of old friendships, emphasising the lack of sincerity and honesty and the dark undertones to most of the relationships between them. On the other hand, I must admit that dark —or at least grey— characters make for a much more interesting reading experience than goody two-shoes.
The writing style is straight forward and manages to create a clear image of the characters in the reader’s mind. There are some rather memorable scenes as well, but the book takes its time building up the background and the relationships, rather than moving at a fast pace, but still manages to keep readers intrigued and interested.
As I said, I had my suspicions about who the guilty party might be and what was behind the murder from early on (the clues are all there), but nonetheless I found the ending satisfying, and I think most readers will feel the same.
In sum, a solid thriller, that brings back memories of old style mystery novels, with more emphasis on the psychological aspect, and which also has much in common with the domestic noir style (although here transposed to the Highlands). An interesting novel for lovers of the genre, and one that I’m sure in the right hands could be turned into a successful movie.