Published by Harper Collins
When a book chases you around the internet, it’s hard to ignore it. It happened with Eleanor Olyphant is Completely Fine, it happened with Elizabeth is Missing, it happened (and is continuing to happen) with The Wych Elm. My latest book stalker is The Hunting Party, criminal mystery du jour that has Ryan Tubridy, among others, singing its praises. Its marketing campaign’s rampant badgering finally wore me down, out of curiosity yes, but also out of the need to stop the incessant advertising. This is what happens when you accept cookies people!
Anyway, after all that persuasive bullying I don’t regret the purchase. Ryan, my sister and the countless others proclaiming its page-turning qualities were right. It’s one of those ones with chapters just the right length to justify “just one more”, leading to a few late nights and groggy mornings. The chapters are told alternatively by four of the characters, meaning you’re waiting for at least a chapter before each cliffhanger is resolved, so 10pm becomes 2am in the blink of an eye.
We begin with a well-heeled group of early thirty-somethings leaving by train from London to Scotland. They’re embarking on their annual New Years’ trip, established when the core group was in Oxford together and continued over the decade or so since leaving uni with the addition of various partners and spouses acquired. You have your career woman, your glamour-puss, your raucous city boy, your new parents. You have your perfectionist late addition to the group, who has taken on the planning and needs it to go well. You have the underlying secrets and tensions that every close-knit, mixed-sex group picks up along the way, ready to boil over if left too long simmering.
Off they pop up North, winding the other passengers up along the way with their champagne swilling and not making the best first impression on the groundsman waiting at the remote station to pick them up and bring them to their destination. They’re to stay in a freshly built lodge, a modern wonder of steel and glass overlooking the vast great outdoors, with individual luxury cabin pods assigned to each couple, apart from the one and only single guest who will be staying alone. Despite the adventure into the pampered wilderness, with the promise of wild nights with Bollinger and a New Year’s feast, the atmosphere in the group is distinctly off, everyone can feel it and it’s not just because of the baby who’s tagged along. It’s not even the presence of unexpected Icelandic guests who are also staying at the lodge, or their slightly timid host, or even the eerie expanse of mother nature’s finest. Everyone’s on edge.
Of course the reader has been made aware from the start that a body has been found, when the narrative jumps three days forward, so the tension is explained somewhat. But there are so many potential victims, and suspects, and motives that we’re kept guessing right until the end as to who the dearly departed is and who is responsible for said departure. Saying that, they’re fairly easy to keep track of, thanks to the alternating narratives and the varying emphasis given to the characters. As well as the story taking place over the three fateful days in Scotland, we’re taken to the direct aftermath of the death as well as reminiscences to the friendship origins and evolution.
The often rocky road of friendship is at the centre of the story, and the hunting expedition of the title is at the heart of it. When the party of unprepared city-dwellers embark on a more or less stage managed trip into hunting land the story is grounded by taking each character out of their comfort zones and into the wilds. It’s not a long scene in the run of them; there’s a decadent alcohol fuelled party before that and an awkward meal with the unexpected guests, but it hastens the feeling of unease amongst the lot, and bristles the hairs of the reader.
The Hunting Party is a vibrant read, a captivating delve into the ups and downs of complicated relationships and the danger of flying too close to the shadow of someone else’s light.