Mystery of the Month – The Hunting Party

A New Year’s party in a remote Scottish Highlands lodge turns deadly when one of the partygoers is murdered. Only you won’t learn the identity of the victim, or the murderer, until the end of the novel.

Like all good murder mysteries, The Hunting Party begins with a dead body. The gruesome discovery is made in the snowy wilderness and although we don’t know who it is just yet, we do know it’s one of the thirteen guests staying at the lodge. And although there’s whispers of a serial killer on the loose, we can expect the murderer is (cue ominous music)… among them.

The story is told through the points of view of five main characters, jumping between 2 January 2019, when the body has been found, and the three days beforehand. There’s lodge employee, Heather, the closest thing the novel has to a sleuth, and quiet gamekeeper with a dark past, Doug. Eager-to-please Emma has organised the event for the group of friends, who’ve known each other since their days at Oxford. Flirty mean girl Miranda loves to ruffle a few feathers and “mousey nobody” Katie harbours a secret that will rupture the group of friends forever. Rounding out the party are Emma’s boyfriend, Miranda’s husband and two other couples, including one with a baby.

The Hunting Party is the debut crime novel for Lucy Foley, who usually writes historical fiction. She is evidently well versed in the mystery genre as this story has all the elements of a classic whodunit. The icy Scottish wilderness takes the place of the ‘locked room’; the setting aptly described by the absence of footprints in the snow, dark trees that press in, and the watchful silence of the forest.

Juicy tidbits are drip fed chapter by chapter, like reading a secret journal where characters reveal their innermost thoughts and divulge their true opinions of each other. For example, Miranda tells us she feels a sense of power being the friend others look up to and the one with the perfect life. But supposed best friend Katie tells us Miranda can either “make you feel as though you are borrowing a little of her light” or “she can make you feel like shit, depending on her whim.”

We soon learn the group of longtime friends aren’t as buddy-buddy as they seem, with resentment, bitterness and grudges galore simmering beneath the surface of their drugs and alcohol-fuelled antics. Everyone has something to hide and a reason to want the victim dead, meaning that by about halfway through the novel, we have a pretty good idea who that victim is. The same cannot be said for the identity of the murderer, which should come as a surprise to even the most savvy crime fiction reader.

The Hunting Party successfully modernises the traditional murder mystery. There’s a hefty list of possible suspects, a suitably claustrophobic environment and enough sexy moments to make Agatha Christie blush. A complicated web of red herrings and dramatic twists makes this a thrilling read about friends who think they know everything there is to know about one another but who all wear masks, one murderously so.

Standout Simile: –

She’s so cold that her teeth are chattering with a sound like someone shaking dice.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley is published by Harper Collins in Australia.

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