HarperCollins | 2019 (24 January) | 394p | Review copy | Buy the book
Every year a group of old friends gets together to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Most of them know each other from their golden days at Oxford University some years ago but two, Miranda and Katie, became best friends when they were at school. Through the years they’ve gathered partners and lovers and they, too, are now part of the group, although Katie is still single. She knows that means she’ll get the smallest room…. This particular year, Emma, the newest member to the group, has arranged the trip and the destination is a remote lodge by a loch in the Scottish Highlands. Emma’s keen for it to go well. But when a wintry storm strikes and the lodge is cut off from the outside world, then you just know it’s only time before something goes wrong, before there is a murder. Because there is nobody on this hunting party without a secret.
The Hunting Party has such an appealing premise. It has that Agatha Christie vibe of a small group of people cut off from the world (ideally by bad weather as here) and one of them is murdered. It’s claustrophobic, dark and compelling. And you just know that there are going to be surprises.
The novel’s narrative moves between several of the protagonists, which include the hosts at the lodge as well as the guests, notably the rather dark and moody gamekeeper. The action takes place in the ‘Now’, after the body is discovered, and in the two or three days leading up to the murder. During this time we get to know everyone and the dynamics of their relationships. There’s a salacious pleasure in watching the strings that bind these people together wither. They each have their secrets, a space within themselves that nobody else can enter, but perhaps the time to clear the air has come.
The Hunting Party is a tense and fast read. With so much drama going on the pages almost turn themselves. But I didn’t entirely get along with it. I think this is partly because out of all of the characters in the book, I didn’t like a single one of them. That shouldn’t really matter but, when you’re trying to work out who killed whom, it makes it less of a puzzle when you’re actually not bothered and rather think they all deserve it. The author definitely had some fun with these people. Miranda, the beautiful one, is outrageous! In fact, it’s the women who have the most character. The men are a bit limp, with the exception of the moody gamekeeper.
The other main issue I had with the novel is that these people have far too many secrets or hidden angst. There isn’t one settled person amongst them. This made me wonder how they could have celebrated so many New Year Eves together in the past without killing each other – why wait til now?
Nevertheless, The Hunting Party is a fun read, especially during a long dark evening and the Highland setting, although not explored in depth, is a suitably chilly setting for this atmospheric tale of murder.