The Guest List by Lucy Foley

Published by Harper Collins

What happens when a group of British ex-public school boys, whose motto is to “raise hell” de-camps to a craggy island off the Irish west coast with a local reputation for tragedy, for a society wedding? Murder most foul, of course!

If you have read Lucy Foley’s previous smash hit book The Hunting Party, you’ll recognise the format immediately. Told through a number of different perspectives, the narrative relies on the unfamiliar surroundings that a group has, in their sense of entitlement and arrogance as a result of their pots of money, have taken over as their own. In the Hunting Party it was a retreat in the Scottish Highlands, attended by a group of old friends for a New Year’s Eve bash organised by their perfectionist de facto leader, here it’s an all-but-deserted island, its looming tower house restored in time to become a unique wedding destination organised by a perfectionist bride.

Locals attend to the visitors’ needs; Aoife is the wedding planner and owner of The Folly, the premises on the island that the wedding will take place in, helped by her husband Freddie. She is one of the narrators, as is the bride, her bridesmaid, sister Olivia, Hannah, the wife of the bride’s best friend Charlie, and the best man, Johnno. They all have unique perspectives and opinions of each other, providing compelling narrative arcs that intertwine and diverge where the writer sees fit. Each narrator is distinct from the other, and believable both from their own points of views and from those of the others.

Fans of The Hunting Party will be very familiar with the set-up; at first it seems like a mind-map or blueprint of the story that should have been edited and refined before publication, so close is it to the previous book. And speaking of editing, there are a few typos that should have been picked up, mostly to do with the Irish aspects perhaps unfamiliar to British sub-editors (Foley herself has an Irish background, hence the setting). Aoife, for instance was misspelled as Aiofe on one page where the name appeared several times. But as the story goes on the format comes in handy, to keep in mind the relationships each narrator has with the other temporary islanders.

Besides those gripes I actually thoroughly enjoyed the read, in fact it compares favourably to The Hunting Party, in that it’s a more tightly wound plot with a better pay-off at the end. The pacing is slow but steady, the evocation of the atmosphere appealing and the characters, for the most part, compelling. Here and there, there are co-incidences and connections that are slightly beyond believe, but it’s the type of mystery that requires a stretch of the imagination so I’ll forgive it the more implausible alliances.

As chance would have it, just after finishing this book I happened upon a 2016 comedy-mystery from the BBC on Netflix called Stag, about a group of deplorable former public school boys descending on an inhospitable Scottish wood for a camping and hunting trip, with the unfortunate, unsuspecting brother of the bride in tow. It could easily have been a description of the stags here (to begin with at least, before the TV show’s murder spree begins – it’s a three-parter and quite a fun, gory watch if you’re in the mood); privileged clowns with superiority complexes who like to gang up on the weakest in the pack, especially if he’s a mild mannered Geography teacher, as he is in both stories.

An incident from their school days is one of the possible motives for the murder of an unknown victim that’s revealed at the beginning of the book. So too is rivalry, resentment and good-old fashioned revenge, and it’s anyone’s guess as to just who the victim is (it could be one of a quite a few) and who is the perpetrator. As well as that everyone plays detective; there are more mysteries than that of the corpse to solve, ranging from adultery and jealousy to just what happened on the stag weekend, and what occurred at school. The Guest List will keep you guessing right up to the end.

First published in The Tuam Herald on 22 04 20

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