At the end of last year, I enjoyed reading Lucy Foley’s debut thriller, The Hunting Party. I knew I’d need to go back and read her second thriller, The Guest List – which I’d actually bought earlier and just hadn’t gotten to yet. This month is all about spooky reads, and although The Guest List has a summer wedding setting, its stormy weather and ultimate murder make it perfect for October.
|The Guest List by Lucy Foley|
|Number of Pages||313|
|Format I Read||Hardcover (BOTM)|
|Original Publication Date||June 2, 2020|
The bride ‧ The plus one ‧ The best man ‧ The wedding planner ‧ The bridesmaid ‧ The body
On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.
But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.
And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?
Like Lucy Foley’s previous thriller, The Guest List features a large cast of characters. Five of them get POV chapters: Jules, the bride who’s marrying Will; her sister Olivia, the bridesmaid; the best man Johnno, who’s known Will since school; Hannah, the plus-one accompanying Charlie, Jules’s best friend; and the wedding planner, Aoife. The main story covers only two days, the day before and day of the wedding, but a lot goes down in a short amount of time!
At first, The Guest List doesn’t necessarily feel like a thriller. We’re getting to know all these different characters, learning their personalities and insecurities and histories. It starts off innocently enough. Well, perhaps not innocently. There are definitely some issues lurking here, from dark secrets to worries that someone is about to cheat on their partner. Will, Johnno, and their school friends – with all their boarding schoolboy energy – also bring a lot of anxiety into the mix with their creepy antics.
But slowly, everything starts to come together. The net tightens as worse secrets come to light and the stakes rise up until the wedding night’s final crescendo.
In the various online book groups I’m in, I’ve noticed that a lot of people seem to hate the characters in The Guest List, saying they’re all unlikable. I disagree. What I like about both of Lucy Foley’s thrillers so far is that the characters always feels so real. Yes, they’re generally deeply flawed in some ways, but they’re not black or white. The characters encompass a lot of gray area, between good attributes and good intentions on the one hand, and shameful urges and mistakes made on the other. In The Guest List, the characters are not on their best behavior, and some of them are far more annoying than others. I don’t agree with a lot of their actions or even secret urges. However, I can understand them, especially after getting to know their backgrounds. In some cases, I actually felt a lot of empathy for them. People aren’t perfect, and the characters here certainly prove that, but it doesn’t mean they’re evil. (Except one person; they’re totally evil!)
The setting of a small island off the west coast of Ireland adds a lot to the story. With its quicksand bogs and sharp cliffs and rumors of buried corpses, this island has great atmosphere for the unraveling secrets and murder that take place. The castle, too, lends a certain spooky factor. That the island is isolated, only accessible by a man and his boat, further amps up the thrills. I do love a locked-room mystery, characters being trapped with a killer in some way, and like her previous book, The Guest List brings that in full force.
As the story moves along, I started to guess certain secrets that would be revealed. I was right every time – woohoo! – though there were a few shocks I didn’t anticipate. By the time we knew who the victim was, it was impossible to guess who actually did it; by then, they truly all had a motive, just like the back of the book warned.
By novel’s end, I was thrilled and even satisfied, yet also sad and regretful for some characters. It’s a quick page-turner of a book, and one that kept me engaged through its very last chapter.
The Guest List is a great wedding day thriller about painful secrets and the repercussions of past misdeeds. If you can juggle a larger cast of characters and don’t mind flawed characters, this is an exciting ride. So far, I’m loving Lucy Foley’s novels, and I can’t wait to read her next thriller, The Paris Apartment, out in February 2022. I’m also going to check out her earlier books (romances?), too.
About the Author
Lucy Foley studied English literature at Durham University and University College London and worked for several years as a fiction editor in the publishing industry. She is the author of The Book of Lost and Found, The Invitation, and The Hunting Party. She lives in London.