Today’s Monday Mystery is The Guest List . It’s not very often I see books advertised on television but I guess coming up to Christmas it becomes the thing for some sellers/publishers to do. That’s where I first heard about this book and Lucy Foley, author of several books none of which I had read.
The premise is an elite wedding in a remote setting, an island off the west coast of Ireland with a tragic history and an old castle referred to as The Folly. The bride, Jules Keegan, has a successful magazine start-up and the upscale image to go with it. The groom, Will Slater, is the smooth, handsome star of an overnight adventure/ survival TV show. The bridal party arrives the day before but the story starts at the reception following the wedding with a waitress in shock after discovering a body.
This is not your usual murder mystery nor is it told in a straightforward fashion. It is carefully crafted, moving back and forth between the wedding day and the day before (though not in a confusing way as in some newer novels I can think of) and told by several members of the group of first arrivals: the bride, the groom, the bridesmaid (bride’s half-sister), the wedding planner, the best man (Johnno), and the wife of the bride’s oldest friend who’s referred to with the belittling phrase “the plus one”, Hannah. It’s Hannah who walks the tightrope between all the tense relationships and tries to help Olivia, the bride’s half-sister and only bridesmaid in whom she recognizes warning signs of a disaster waiting to happen.
There is no search for the killer, no following of clues, no uncovering of motives because while a body is found at the very beginning, the identity of the victim is not known until almost the end of the novel. Instead, the secrets are uncovered slowly through the stories and observations of the narrators and eventually several members of the party are revealed to have reason to seek revenge for a past injury.
While this is an interesting departure from the usual mystery story, it took me a number of chapters before I decided whether I liked it or not. Very few of the characters were likeable. Many were into drugs and used foul language, were verbally abusive to each other, were bullies, and the comparison (used in the book) to Lord of the Flies was all too apparent. The bride’s parents are divorced, the father in his 5th marriage and neither parent had given her much attention growing up. Her younger sister has left university mid-year, tries to avoid everyone and cuts herself where it won’t show. The bride manipulates her oldest friend and alienates his wife. The groom is too smooth and had only attended the posh school because his father was headmaster. He seems to have “gotten away with” many indiscretions in the past and has an odd relationship with his old school chums who all have ritualistic ways of celebrating. Only Hannah and Aoife (no idea how to pronounce her name) seem to have their heads on straight and try to keep things smooth between all parties.
However, the isolated setting with its high cliffs, whispering caves, stories of bodies disappearing into the bogs, and the small graveyard that is being protected by the wedding planner, all add to the macabre atmosphere and as the story progressed and especially as Olivia’s recent history is revealed, the pace picks up and curiosity takes over. The number of people who would have cheerfully killed the victim by the end is surprising and the actual murderer is not the person arrested which makes for an interesting ending. Well written, worth reading, and I’ll probably end up reading another of Lucy Foley’s books. * * * *
Other books by Lucy Foley:
The Hunting Party
Last Letter from Istanbul
The Book of Lost and Found
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