My last read was one of the books I bought in my post-Endgame book trip. I had needed something to cheer me up and nothing cheers me up quite like looking at books. I’d been attracted to this cover for ages because I’m a sucker for anything yellow these days. But I had also been wanting to pick this up for a while. I’ve seen it around quite a bit and heard good things about it. So many people bring up Agatha Christie when talking about it that I felt I had to give it a try. I’ve been a Christie fan for years and admit that she is one of the few crime writers I never get bored of. I’ve never been a big crime fiction reader. I always find them underwhelming. The twists are too obvious and I guess them from the start. I know it’s probably not in the spirit of the book but if it’s staring me right in the face what am I meant to do? Maybe there just are no crimes to write about anymore? Has every possible murder been committed in literature? I kind of feel like it has because I get such a sense of deja vu whenever I read the next big crime novel. But, that also doesn’t stop me trying so I’ve got nobody to blame but myself.
It’s New Year’s Eve and, as is tradition, a group of old university friends is celebrating together. This year, as organised by the group’s newest member, they are spending it in the middle of the Scottish highlands. The gathered group consists of 9 people: Miranda and her husband Julien; new parents Samira and Giles; Nick and his American boyfriend, Bo; Mark and Emma, the event’s organiser; and lawyer Katie. As happy as the group is to see each other, tensions quickly begin to bubble to the surface. Apparently, there is a lot of complicated history between this group that is threatening to come out. And, obviously, something does when a body turns up on the second day of the New Year. With only the two estate employees and a pair of other guests around, the list of suspects is limited. So, is one of these close friends really capable of murder?
I’ll be honest, when I picked up this book, I wasn’t really expecting to think much of it. It sounded like a promising enough story but I’m normally unimpressed by most contemporary crime thrillers. I can’t say that The Hunting Party is the greatest or most original story I’ve ever read but it does end up being quite gripping. The brilliance of the book is in its setting. The vast open space of the Highlands is the perfect backdrop for all of the paranoia and mistrust on display. The sense of isolation is reminiscent of And Then There Were None but the links between Foley and Christies don’t really go much further. For, despite all of her best efforts, it becomes obvious fairly early in the novel who the victim is and who is responsible for their death.
It feels like a lot of The Hunting Party is just Foley trying to drag out the story for all it’s worth. The narrative flits between the past and the present and changes point of view. It’s the kind of easy writing where a personal secret is half revealed and not returned to until a couple of chapters later. What I like to think of like the Dan Brown approach. After all, why put too much stock in your big twist ending when every section can have loads of tiny cliffhangers? Although, if it weren’t so obvious that we were being offered red herrings left, right and centre it would be fine. It’s just that there’s nothing subtle in Foley’s approach. She’s kind of ham-fisted when it comes to the finer points of deception and everything feels as though it was written with a knowing wink. It kind of ruins the mood.
Which is a shame because The Hunting party is such a readable book. I’m not going to pretend this will be the greatest thing you’ve ever read but it certainly kept me going. Foley’s characters are the epitome of cliche but that just adds to the trashiness. And I love a trashy crime thriller. The structure is, by far, the worst aspect of the novel. I think the time jump narrative is overused these days and is rarely done well. Instead of adding anything here, it simply puts off the inevitable. It’s an easy way to build tension when you can’t do it through the story. Like the fact the Foley refuses to tell us the gender of the victim until about halfway through despite the fact it’s painfully clear who it is. In the end, all it does is slow the pace. But, deep down, this is a fine novel. Just take the constant connections people make to Agatha Christie with a huge pinch of salt.