I got a pile of review copies from the nice folks at Harper Collins and the timing was perfect! I was really in the mood for some new books and ready to get through to the end. Knowing my favorite genres, I started with The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley — it was a quick, engaging read, and just what I needed to get over the hump.
The Hunting Party is the story of a group of old friends who have gathered at a remote, luxurious resort in the wilds of Scotland for their annual New Year’s Eve get-together. It’s a bit of a cliche, to be honest because of course there’s no cell signal and of course they are virtually alone on the property and of course there’s a blizzard and now the roads are impassable. It’s a trope, but a useful one — its familiar territory for mystery fans. The old friends are set players: the beautiful one, the quiet one, the golden couple, the outsider, etc. The fun of using those tropes is that Foley can play with them; she can set you up to expect one thing and then surprise you.
Miranda is the beautiful one — “the life and soul of the party.” She and her husband, Julien, are the golden couple with the perfect life. She is the glue that holds the group together, the sparkling personality that everyone is drawn to. Nick and Bo are a gay couple with a difficult history. Samira and Giles are new parents who (for some reason I’ll never understand) have brought their 6-month-old baby to this party in the woods. Mark and Emma are a couple, although Emma joined the group fairly recently (and Mark may be secretly in love with Miranda). Katie is the quiet one, Miranda’s oldest friend, and a woman with a secret. Everyone has secrets and there are cross-currents in all of their relationships that keep you guessing as you read.
One of the things I enjoyed the most is that from the start, we know that one of the guests will die. Doug, the gamekeeper, has found the body and he and the innkeeper, Heather, are dealing with this without much outside help. (The blizzard, of course.) We know, but the characters don’t. We step back in time a day or two and get to watch their interactions, knowing that one of them is going to die and one of them is likely a murderer. I think that’s a lot of fun for the reader: we don’t know if this is the action or the statement that is going to prompt someone to deadly action. The characters are tense — this party isn’t going particularly well — but as readers, we are also tense. We know something they don’t know, but we don’t know enough.
Foley is very careful to keep not just the identity of the murdered, but the identity of the victim hidden; she’s so careful that it is sometimes a little stilted, obviously not using a name or gendered pronoun. She was careful enough that it stood out to me, but not so much that it took me away from the story. I had fun guessing who the victim might be. I could see the story going in different directions, with different villains and different motives, and that really makes for a good story. I don’t know about you, readers, but I don’t want to have it all figured out. I love a plot twist that I didn’t see coming!
According to Deadline, See-Saw Productions has secured the film rights to this novel, and I think it will make a great movie. My copy of The Hunting Party was provided free of charge.