The Guest List by Lucy Foley

The Blurb On The Back:

Each has a secret.

Each has a motive.

Off the windswept Irish coast, guests gather for the wedding of the year.

Old friends.

Past grudges.

Happy families.

Hidden jealousies.

Thirteen guests.

One body.

One guest won’t leave this wedding alive … 

You can order The Guest List by Lucy Foley from Amazon USAAmazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

TV survival expert Will Slater and successful magazine editor Julia Keegan are getting married on a small island off the west coast of Ireland.  It’s an exclusive affair – only 13 guests will be staying with the happy couple ahead of the ceremony and reception with the rest being boated over on the day.

Julia’s half sister, Olivia, is the only bridesmaid, but Julia’s annoyed at her lack of excitement or even basic engagement with the day.  Olivia’s been moping about since dropping out of her English course at Exeter University and while Julia loves her, their relationship is complicated because Olivia is clearly the favourite of Julia’s self-absorbed, failed actress mother.  Julia’s much happier to have Charlie there.  He’s an ex-crush turned best friend and while he’s there as one of Will’s ushers, she sees him as effectively her best man and she knows that he’ll have her back – enough to make her forget the note she received before leaving for Ireland, the note that told her not to go ahead with the wedding.  

Charlie’s attending with his wife, Hannah.  She’s always felt in Julia’s shadow where Charlie’s concerned and coming from a working class background, she’s never felt comfortable in Julia’s gilded, rich world.  But she’s pleased to have a few nights away from her young children and is fascinated by the handsome, dynamic Will, even though Charlie doesn’t have anything positive to say about him and won’t talk about what happened during his stag weekend in Sweden – even though it’s clear that something happened that’s troubling him a lot.

Aoife owns the island venue with her husband, Freddy.  She set out to secure Julia’s wedding, knowing that such a high profile even would secure the future of her own business and is determined that things should run smoothly.  But she’s not blind to the dynamics in play among the wedding party guests.  She sees Will’s behaviour with the old boarding school friends who are serving as his groomsmen and ushers – the wealth and the competitiveness between them, the way it spills over into vindictiveness and bullying.

Will’s best man, Johnno, knows about that competitiveness all too well.  He first met Will at boarding school, where he was a scholarship kid whose working class parents were thrilled that he had a passport to a better life.  The two were fast friends, Johnno sympathetic to Will who was conscious of his position as the headmaster’s son (his father a cold, distant man with plenty of expectations for Will but no real love) but at the same time envious of how Will’s easy charm and good looks meant that he got away with a lot and managed to be everyone’s friend.  But even though the two have been drifting apart ever since Will’s TV career began to take off, Johnno knows that a shared event in their past will always bind them together, no matter how high Will climbs.

Olivia can’t wait for the whole thing to be over.  She’s had a rough year but hasn’t really felt able to fully confide in anyone so while her mum knows about her break-up with Callum (whose subsequent hook-up with Ellie was so fast that everyone has guessed the truth), she doesn’t know about everything else.  Olivia knows that she should keep it that way but she knows something about Will, something that she should probably tell Julia but just cannot find the words …

Then, on the night of the wedding a body is found and life for all the guests will never be the same again …

Lucy Foley’s mystery thriller is a slickly constructed, fast-paced double mystery that effortlessly switches between 5 narrators to draw out the insecurities and privilege of the wealthy while concealing the identity of both victim and killer until the end.  Although I did guess both killer and victim very early on and I felt that the ending was a bit too neat, it’s still an engaging and smart read that kept me turning the pages until the end.

Some of the themes of wealth and privilege at play in this book echo those in Foley’s debut novel THE HUNTING PARTY (e.g. through Hannah and Charlie’s discomfort and feelings of being outsiders compared to Julia and Will and their wealthy friends).  However Foley also goes in a different direction to look at the impact of boarding school and privilege and how it blends with toxic masculinity for some men.  The dynamics of Will and Johnno’s school friends and how they whip each other up, using pack mentality to engage in stupid dares and drinking games was all too familiar to me (having worked in the City for almost 20 years I’ve seen a lot of it go on in bars and social events).  Although the school friends themselves are pretty two-dimensional (although, still gotta say I recognised a lot of truth in them), Foley uses both Charlie and Johnno’s experiences to highlight how men essentially manipulate each other and the cruelty at play with Julia and Hannah’s observe the dynamics between them all.

I thought that the way Foley moves between the point of view characters was incredibly smoothly done.  Each has their own voice so I understood who was speaking when and the way she splits between scenes helps to maintain the fast pace.  However each point of view character is quite broadly characterised – Julia a demanding control freak who just wants her parents’ love and approval, Hannah the fish out of water mother hiding a sad secret, Johnno the schlumpy, slightly creepy failure clinging to his friend’s coattails because he has a hold over him, Aoife the cool, calm and collected organiser, and Olivia the sister with a secret trauma.  There isn’t anything particularly wrong with that and they do get more colour as the book goes on but if you’re looking for characters with lots of levels, then this may be disappointing (although it’s not uncommon in thrillers).

I read a lot of thrillers and I did guess the killer very early on (I don’t think this is because of any failure on Foley’s part or any special skill on mine, I just picked up on a line and made an assumption that turned out to be right).  The victim is easier to guess because the story can only really go one way but Foley still does a good job of maintaining tension by splitting the action between the discovery of the murder and the events leading up to it.  If I had a complaint it’s that the ending is a little too neat.  To be fair, all the plot strands are tied up but it’s all very smooth and I did wonder how well the arrest of one of the characters would actually stand up to scrutiny.

All this said though, I did enjoy the book and did keep turning the pages to find out what had happened.  Foley is definitely one of my new must-read thriller writers and I will definitely check out her next novel.

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