Book Review: Lucy Foley – The Hunting Party

An Agatha Christie-esque modern whodunnit, set in a remote location in the Scottish Highlands… but in this murder-mystery, not only the killer was in question until the final twist….

‘The Hunting Party’ is an ingenious work of fiction, which in some ways proves that books can still create stories which would not work on television or in film. For in order for a murder-mystery to take place, you would likely have to see the body, or indeed who is still alive following the event. But for 350 pages, neither killer nor victim have been fully deduced, and even then, not until a penultimate twist, do you know which of the two takes up which role. The ten or eleven potential victims are cleverly whittled down by gender, before specific characteristics become important. Additionally, this is a similar story for the murderer.

The book does manage to lure you into a false sense of security. The first 200 or 250 pages, it is known someone has died at the hands of one of the other characters, but obviously neither identity is known. We learn more about the connections of the nine friends, along with the three people working at the hunting lodge – Doug, Heather and Iain – and everyone has secrets which are just waiting to be spilled. However, much of the Oxford graduates’ interactions have flashbacks, and inane discussion, along with very aware amusement at their privilege, which they themselves do not notice. And, indeed, you do end up wondering if the story is ever going to go anywhere. Though, if like me, you quite enjoy reading about the scandalous ins-and-outs of the upper-middle classes’ private lives, it won’t be too much of an issue.

Because once the revelations start spilling, after the carefully laid preparations, it’s a thrill ride until the very last page. Plot twists come spiralling out of everywhere: everyone is in a toxic relationship with each other, and, in reality, none of the nine bar one come out of the tale looking very good. When it gets going, this book packs a punch, with it’s brutal landscape and almost horror-like depictions of the cold, the blood and of something lurking in the shadows. All of the clues are in the extended prose – you just need to make sure you’re keeping up with it.

The jumbled timeline really works in this book. Heather and Doug’s perspectives come from the 2nd of January, after they discover the body of the missing guest who has been missing since late on New Years’ Night. All of the guests (only the female characters give their perspectives) are only present in the build up to the death. Yet the two timelines compliment each other brilliantly – and in a way, tell their own story. The rich, entitled guests, causing problems of their own which aren’t that important but feeling resentful for having them – affairs, illegal banking – against the two gatekeepers, who have experienced severe trauma and have escaped to the Lodge to try and break free from it. Two tales about loneliness, and throughout, you see the outsiders at least, experience a growth and progression from the problems which they have.

I bought the book for its bright yellow cover – it’s not the first time I’ve judged a book by its cover – and it’s intriguing premise. I stayed and finished for it’s wonderful writing. I perhaps in the past have been irritated by the use of present tense throughout novels, but this has shown me how good it can be. Two timelines, both feeling like the present, both feeling dynamic and evolving. It has even inspired me to write my own mystery in this vein (more news coming up on that very very soon!!!!!). And if I manage to write a story half as good as this one, I think it will be a very good read.

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