Earlier this year, I bought The Guest List, the widely-read and award-winning second thriller by Lucy Foley. Though I still haven’t read that one, I was excited when Book of the Month unexpectedly made her previous thriller, The Hunting Party, available two months ago.
I decided to end 2020 with a time-appropriate book. As The Hunting Party takes place in the days before and after New Year’s Eve, it seemed like the perfect way to finish the year.
The Hunting Party follows a group of nine close friends as they go on holiday in the Scottish Highlands. It’s a remote retreat, but although most of these friends have known each other for a decade, tensions are high within the group. By the end of their trip, one of these friends will be murdered. But why? And who is the killer?
With a large cast and five different POV characters, The Hunting Party is full of intricacies and secrets, and it will leave you guessing until the end.
In some ways, The Hunting Party is a complex book. It jumps back and forth in time, between January 2nd (when the dead body is found) and the previous three days leading up to that tragedy. We also have a huge cast to work with, including the nine friends, two additional guests from Iceland, and three employees at The Lodge. And among that cast, we get five different POV characters, four of which are in the first person. It’s a lot to juggle, especially when you first start reading the book.
But don’t let all of that deter you. The characters are distinct enough that it doesn’t take long to get to know them. Moreover, the story is simply too good to pass up.
What I loved about The Hunting Party is how multi-faceted the relationships between the friends are. These are people who have known each other for 10 years, since they went to Oxford together. Two friends – Miranda and Katie – have known each other even longer than that; two others in the group – Bo and Emma – are newer, the significant others of some of the core friends. But do these close, long-lasting friends truly care for each other? Or might there be some resentment, some hatred, even?
As we get to know the different friends – through the eyes of Emma, Miranda, and Katie – we start to see the little cracks under the facade of closeness. There are a lot of years-old secrets and grudges; there are more recent mistakes, lies, and betrayals, too. But are any of them worth killing over?
With so many fissures between individuals in the group, you’ll have no shortage of theories. Did person A kill person B because of this thing that happened 10 years ago? Or maybe person F killed person G because of this newly unearthed secret? Personally, I saw numerous possibilities laid out before me, so many forks in the road that could lead to the final, murderous destination.
And that’s another element that keeps us guessing: Lucy Foley doesn’t reveal who the murder victim even is until close to the end of the book. It’s only halfway through that we learn the victim’s gender; their specific identity remains up in the air as the net tightens on New Year’s Eve and early on New Year’s Day.
Beyond the nine main friends, we also get POV chapters from two of the employees. Heather’s parts all come from the present time, January 2nd, when the body is found. The gamekeeper Doug’s parts are all in the third person (unlike the others’ first-person chapters), but his chapters happen alongside the friends’ narratives, in the days leading up to the murder.
Between the characters, a lot of backstory is woven in, though it never feels like an info dump. We get to see glimpses of their pasts, sometimes showing a lot of their character and moments that caused issues between them. At others – especially with Heather and Doug – we only get peeks into their past, a sense that they’re running from something painful that happened… or that they did. But, ever keeping us on our toes, we have to wait a while before we find out what horrors lurk in their recent history.
By about halfway through the book, I had a pretty good idea of who the murder victim would be. That person seemed to be central to a lot of bad feelings amongst the group… which kept the murderer more of a mystery. Indeed, it kept my brain fully activated, constantly reassessing my theories to fit each new clue.
But if you think it will end up being an easy, clean case, you’re wrong. In the end, there are several dirty little secrets and even several crimes happening. The puzzle is where the murder fits into all those crimes.
While all of the characters in The Hunting Party are flawed, none of them are black and white. I appreciate how nuanced they all are. Some have rough and violent pasts, yet you can’t help but feel for them. Others seem so nice and considerate, and yet they have a darker side hidden away. The murder victim, for all their flaws, isn’t an evil person; while they may have deserved some reprimanding, they ultimately were dealt far too harsh a sentence. In contrast, others may get off too easily.
The Hunting Party is a book that’s complex and multi-faceted, a story that’s thought-provoking and at times heart-wrenching. It makes for a great thriller, full of twists and shocks and a bit of a moral lesson, too.
I’ve heard a lot of mixed feelings about Lucy Foley’s latest two books, perhaps because of how popular they’ve been. But I thoroughly enjoyed The Hunting Party and will recommend it to anyone who likes thrillers and mysteries. It was surprising and smart, with a chilling setting and a rich cast of characters.
Based on this novel, I’m now more eager to go back and read her latest, The Guest List. Stay tuned for that review!
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