Everyone’s invited…everyone’s a suspect…
For fans of Ruth Ware and Tana French, a shivery, atmospheric, page-turning novel of psychological suspense in the tradition of Agatha Christie, in which a group of old college friends are snowed in at a hunting lodge . . . and murder and mayhem ensue.
All of them are friends. One of them is a killer.
During the languid days of the Christmas break, a group of thirtysomething friends from Oxford meet to welcome in the New Year together, a tradition they began as students ten years ago. For this vacation, they’ve chosen an idyllic and isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands—the perfect place to get away and unwind by themselves.
They arrive on December 30th, just before a historic blizzard seals the lodge off from the outside world.
Two days later, on New Year’s Day, one of them is dead.
The trip began innocently enough: admiring the stunning if foreboding scenery, champagne in front of a crackling fire, and reminiscences about the past. But after a decade, the weight of secret resentments has grown too heavy for the group’s tenuous nostalgia to bear. Amid the boisterous revelry of New Year’s Eve, the cord holding them together snaps.
Now one of them is dead . . . and another of them did it.
Keep your friends close, the old adage goes. But just how close is too close?
One of my favourite tropes in the thriller/mystery genre has always been (and probably will always be) the group of people stranded in a remote location with a killer in their midst. There’s just something so primal about it, both in terms of the way the characters when under threat revert to their base urges (fight or flight) and the genuine chills it gives me as a reader. I have always found this idea of being trapped with no way of getting help a bit terrifying and who doesn’t love a few chills in this kind of story.
Needless to say as soon as I discovered The Hunting Party was about a group of old friends snowed in at a hunting lodge in the Scottish Highlands with a killer among them I knew I had to read it (and not just because of the Highland setting).
So did it deliver? Well yes and no. It’s very well written and as a character study, absolutely wonderful but I felt it was a little lacking in the creepiness and tension I so badly wanted. I did really love the way in which the author portrayed the friendship dynamics within the group and the ways in which they’ve changed since they first met (well most of them) at University. They are not the same people now and despite the best efforts of some, have grown apart (and grown up) and lost the closeness they once had. They may think they know each other well but how well can you really know someone, even if they were once your closest friend.
What makes this an even better read is that these characters are for the most part, deliciously horrid. Interested primarily in appearance and position, they are self centered, vain, bullying and nasty. They may have been friends at some point (although I have my doubts) but now they’re more like competitors, trying to outdo each other with their successes. There are also more than a few secrets and grudges being held.
It’s safe to say there wasn’t a single one of them I liked. There was the odd aspect of certain characters that I could relate to or recognize in myself and I did have some sympathy for the poor lodge manager and gamekeeper who had to look after them (and had some secrets of their own) but most of my enjoyment came from watching these nasty people tear each other apart.
Where I felt a little let down however was in the murder mystery. It lacks the tension and the chills it needs to make it a truly thrilling and unputdownable read and I think this is due in part to the format. There are dual timelines running throughout, the first starting right after the discovery of one of the guests bodies (we don’t know which one), and the other a few days before as the party make their way up to the lodge. I personally was not a fan of this approach as I never felt truly in the moment and consequently there was no sense of danger.
There is definitely some mystery to it and it does keep you guessing, firstly which of these horrible people has met a sticky end and then who was behind it and why, but there was none of the killer in our midst tension from the party I was hoping for. This is probably in a large part due to the post murder events being told from the pov of Heather, the lodge manager, with the other guests (the party) barely featuring. I also found it a little silly the way in which the identity of the victim was concealed from the reader, with the author avoiding even gender pronouns so as not to reveal whether it was a man or woman.
All of these criticisms are probably starting to make you think I didn’t enjoy it but I really did. It may not have been exactly the story I was expecting to read but I genuinely enjoy character studies of unpleasant people. There’s just something fascinating about not knowing what someone will do next and Foley has created some well rounded and believably nasty characters.
Overall I would recommend this to anyone who likes a more character focused mystery and doesn’t mind it not being action packed or chilling.
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. All views are my own.