THE GUEST LIST by Lucy Foley (Harper Collins)
Lucy Foley has followed up her successful The Hunting Party (2018) with another well constructed tale of murder in a remote and isolated location.
At first glance The Guest List appears to be a familiar homage to a Golden Age murder mystery, with a group of wedding guests isolated on a windswept island off the Irish coast and murder afoot. However, while we know that someone will be murdered, we do not know who and why until the final pages. Instead, Foley gives the reader an array of secrets and potential motives for murder, and skillfully uses shifting viewpoints, alternating time frames, lots of foreshadowing and clever little deceptions to maximise the mystery and the suspense as we wait for mayhem to occur.
The Guest List opens with a snapshot of the later moments of the wedding night with the guests being plunged into darkness following a power blackout amid a wild storm. When the lights come back on there is a scream of terror and the game is afoot.
From there Foley takes us back to the day before the wedding and we are introduced to the main players. The bride and groom are a golden celebrity couple, Jules, the publisher of a successful online magazine, and the handsome Will, the rising star of a TV show called Survival. The wedding is taking place on the spectacular Cormorant Island and has been organised by wedding planner, Aoife and catered for by her husband, Freddy, who want to use the wedding to promote their island, which has a dark past, as a wedding venue. Among the guests are the fragile bridesmaid, the desperate best man and the insecure ‘plus one’, Hannah, who is married to Charlie, the MC and best friend of the bride. While causing havoc with the preparations are the ushers, a group of sneering, entitled and bullying ex-public schoolboys who are the groom’s best friends from school.
Of course everyone has their secrets and in the hours leading up to the wedding these secrets and resentments come to the fore and a sense of impending disaster hangs over the wedding day.
The Guest List is a very cleverly constructed mystery. The shifting viewpoints work very well and Foley makes it easy to follow the different voices by identifying each of the narrators by name and their relationship to the wedding: Olivia, The Bridesmaid; Hannah, The Plus-One; etc. There are plenty of red herrings and false clues as to what will happen and Foley skillfully misdirects with some subtle almost subliminal imaging at times. Most readers will probably guess the identity of the victim before it is revealed, but the final outcome comes as a surprise.
On the negative side, the profusion of secrets and lies strains credibility and there is one unlikely coincidence. The characters are not particularly likable, but this is to be expected in a murder mystery of this kind and it actually helps to ground the story. The pacing is a little slow, but Foley writes in such a smoothly flowing style that it is easy to settle back and read large chunks of it in a single sitting.
The Guest List is not the sort of novel that I usually like, but I was very impressed with the clever construction and the flow of the story and read it over the course of a lazy day. In all it was a very enjoyable read with a good final twist.
Four and a half stars out of five!
The Guest List was released in Australia on 24 February. Thanks to Harper Collins Australia and the Canberra Weekly for an advanced copy of the book.