fulfilling my 2020 goal to read (at least) one book each month that i bought in hardcover and put off reading long enough that it is now in paperback.
i had huge, sky-high expectations for this one.
gimmie a locked room mystery in an unusual setting, gimmie a gathering of friends who have seeeecrets and one gets murdered, gimmie fast-paced, slow-reveal nonlinear psych suspense with the shifting POVs of unreliable narrators who’re all low-level shitty and any one of ’em could be the killer, gimmie tana french’s name as a comp, gimmie red herrings and complications and an added wrinkle of not telling me which one of ’em is the victim and give. me. that. cover:
or, even better, the UK cover:
this GAVE me all of that, to some degree, and when i finished i should have been dancing in
the streets my apartment, responsibly socially distant, but apparently i’m a greedy little monkey, because that whole candy bowl assortment of Things I Love Individually was not enough to make me love the book as a whole.
it’s fine. it is a satisfying one-day read, a diversion that holds your attention while you’re reading it and and then you finish and reach for the next book on the stack as this one slips from your mind immediately and that’s okay.
it’s the first mystery novel from an author with a few literary-romances under her belt, and for a first-in-genre, it’s solid, but maybe a bit ambitious. all the pieces are there, but too many go unplayed—mostly in the character department.
good things first—the atmosphere is great: you have a remote hunting lodge in the scottish highlands rented out by a group of longtime friends and variously-toxic people for their annual new year’s eve get-together; a retreat whose creepy see-me center is a communal eating/gathering structure made primarily of glass*, surrounded by a number of slightly more private individual cabins and there’s guns and alcohol and grudges and no wifi and that’s all before a massive blizzard cuts off what limited access there was to the outside world. THIS IS THE PERFECT SETTING FOR MURRRRRDERRRRR.
the problem is too many characters, developed unevenly. you got nine friends, one six-month-old baby, a wild-card stranger-couple also renting a cabin on the property, and two staff members; a gamekeeper and a manager. only five of these are given POV-status, which is plenty, but it does mean that the victim/killer pool is smaller than appears, because it’s not much fun if a blurry person kills or gets killed. it lessens the suspense, makes some of the turns easy to spot, although there are still some delicious surprises scattered along the way.
chalk it up to a genre-specific learning curve.
has my tepid reaction to this one made me any less excited to read foley’s next mystery, which is basically the same exact situation: thirteen people with seeeeeecrets attending a destination wedding in a remote location with limited contact to the outside world and then…MUURRRRRDEERRR??
not at all. gimmie now, please!
* ruth ware’s secrets-and-dead-body The Turn of the Key, published about half a year after this one ALSO takes place in a landscape-incongruous, mostly-glass house in the scottish highlands, which is a weird coincidence.