The Blurb On The Back:
In a remote hunting lodge, deep in the Scottish wilderness, old friends gather for New Year.
The beautiful one.
The golden couple.
The volatile one.
The new parents.
The quiet one.
The city boy.
Not an accident A MURDER among friends.
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
It’s 30th December 2018 and a group of old university friends have arrived at the Loch Corrin Estate in the Scottish Highlands for a New Year’s Eve party.
Miranda is at the heart of the group, just as she was at Oxford University. Beautiful, vivacious and brilliant but with a sharp tongue, she’s married to the handsome and successful trader, Julien. Sensible and steady Nick works as an architect and is there with his partner Bo, a recovering addict from the USA who works for the BBC. Samira is a management consultant currently on maternity leave and she and Giles (a doctor) are there their newborn daughter, Priya while Mark (who works for an advertising agency and has anger issues) is there with his partner Emma, who works for a publishing firm. Emma is the only member of the group who wasn’t at university with them but she’s really keen to be accepted and having organised this trip to Loch Corrin is desperate for it to be a success. And then there’s Katie, the only single person on the trip and Miranda’s best friend since they met at secondary school and a successful lawyer who’s hoping for partnership, she’s pulled away from the group recently due to pressure of work.
Loch Corrin is a remote spot and heavy snowfall soon after their arrival effectively cuts them off from the outside world. Worse, they find that despite Emma having made a supposedly exclusive booking, they are sharing their stay with two strange Icelandic backpackers. Fortunately there are staff to help them – the competent estate manager Heather and the brooding, taciturn Doug who both have cottages on site.
As the group prepare for New Year, secrets are uncovered, rivalries and jealousies revealed and trust is broken.
3 days later, one of the group is found murdered …
Lucy Foley’s crime novel is a smartly plotted mystery that focuses on who-got-done-in and why as much as whodunit, using 5 different points of view to maintain tension. The relationship between the characters is well drawn (although some side characters are thinly drawn) and I enjoyed the slow reveal of secrets while empathising with some of the insecurities some of which come from the characters’ unprivileged backgrounds and imposter syndrome.
The book is split between 5 narrators: Miranda, Emma, Heather, Katie and Doug. This allows Foley to keep action moving as she splits scenes between the different characters while also adding depth as you get their perspective both on their relationship (in the case of Miranda, Emma and Katie) or how the group seems from the outside (in the case of Heather and Doug). Particularly interesting is how all the narrators except Doug address the reader directly with a first person perspective, while Doug is written in a tight third person. I wondered if this is partly because of Doug’s background – a war veteran who served in Afghanistan, he’s suffering from PTSD after an attack killed most of his platoon – and reflects how he deliberately keeps himself at a distance, but Heather is equally damaged due to her own backstory and yet is in the first person so I may just be overthinking it.
I liked how each character has their own voice – Miranda is bitchy and vindictive but also lonely and feeling left behind as she’s failed to live up to her early promise. She’s also the only one in the group who comes from a privileged background – having transferred from a private school to the comprehensive where she met Katie, who has always seen herself as Miranda’s project – and there’s a hint in the expectation that this created that colours her resentment to the success of others.
One of the interesting thing about the other characters in the group is the various forms of imposter syndrome that they have as they come from less privileged backgrounds (e.g. Mark had an abusive father) and Foley does well at suggesting how this drew them to the magnetic Miranda. Emma in particular is eager to become friends with Miranda and fit in with the group and her sections suggest an envy of the close relationship that Miranda has with Katie. Katie, meanwhile, is harbouring a secret and has been pulling away from Miranda as she questions why they remain friends when they have increasingly little in common. As outsiders to the group, I enjoyed the perspective that Heather and Doug bring on the group and its allegiances but while I understood Doug’s reasons for being at Loch Corrin, I felt that Heather’s motivation was a little overdone and the ending for their characters too pat.
In contrast to the point of view characters, I felt that the rest of the group was rather thinly drawn. Samira and Giles in particular barely figure in the story other than to give Miranda some humanity as she and Julien have failed to have their own baby while Nick and Bo have very little to do other than help Miranda to demonstrate how casually cruel she can be. Meanwhile Mark’s only personality is a nasty temper and a leaning towards the use of violence and I wanted to know more about why he and Emma were together beyond his crush on Miranda and Emma’s passing resemblance to her. The Icelandic backpackers are barely characterised at all beyond being sinister and creepy.
The plot is cleverly constructed with Foley using the different points of view to bring in backstory both on the group and on the operation of the hotel while maintaining a good pace. I admired how everything slots neatly together and while you don’t really doubt who is going to be whacked, the fun is not just in working out the who but also in the why and on that front, Foley does keep you guessing by setting up plenty of different motives on the part of each character as well as their secrets. I have to say that while I did guess some of the answers (and who the killer is), I didn’t get all the motivation so there was still plenty of fun to be had.
I read the Waterstone’s exclusive special edition of this book, which contained an additional short story set a few days before the events in the book. It was fine and maintained a sinister tension but the open ending seemed a little lame and I didn’t think it really added much to the overall book.
All in all, I thought this was a slick, enjoyable and clever read and notwithstanding my gripe about the supporting characters, it kept me engrossed from beginning to end and I’d really like to read what Foley writes next.