An ambitious murder mystery. 3/5 stars.
Thank you to HarperCollins UK and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book.
The blurb: During the languid days of the Christmas break, a group of thirtysomething friends from Oxford meet to welcome in the New Year together, a tradition they began as students ten years ago. For this vacation, they’ve chosen an idyllic and isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands—the perfect place to get away and unwind by themselves.
They arrive on December 30th, just before a historic blizzard seals the lodge off from the outside world.
Two days later, on New Year’s Day, one of them is dead.
The trip began innocently enough: admiring the stunning if foreboding scenery, champagne in front of a crackling fire, and reminiscences about the past. But after a decade, the weight of secret resentments has grown too heavy for the group’s tenuous nostalgia to bear. Amid the boisterous revelry of New Year’s Eve, the cord holding them together snaps.
Now one of them is dead . . . and another of them did it.
Keep your friends close, the old adage goes. But just how close is too close?
I was excited to read this as it looked like an interesting combination of some classic murder mystery tropes with darker thriller elements. Perhaps I went in with inflated expectations because sadly I was left disappointed.
I appreciate that the author is trying to take a different approach to a classic murder mystery problem. Like many “closed suspect pool” mysteries, the story starts with the discovery of a body, leaving the characters and us to work out who the murderer is. The Hunting Party runs another mystery in parallel to the “whodunnit” by also keeping back who the victim is until confirming the identity of the deceased at about the 80% mark.
This dual mystery is preserved by using flashbacks from the present to the events of the past three days as the friends of the titular party reunite in the Scottish Highlands and get snowed in. I imagine a lot of work went into structuring the novel in such a way to keep us guessing and the flashbacks work well, are clearly signposted and don’t become confusing. Information is also limited by the use of several first person viewpoints, which was slightly tricky to grasp at the start of the novel but made for smooth reading once I’d learnt everyone’s names. My brief period of confusion may also be partially due to the majority of the viewpoints being those of the female guests who are all of similar backgrounds and so have similar voices. I was relieved the voices of the two members of staff were markedly different.
However, while an interesting idea, I think the double mystery went on too long. I prefer murder mysteries where the reader knows the identity of the victim so we can focus on scrutinizing their interactions with the other characters and so work out who may have motive for murder.
That said, you can have a fair guess who the victim is at about the halfway point. The bigger issue for me was I didn’t care because most of the guests were shallow, self-obsessed and entirely ungrateful for and unaware of their staggering levels of privilege. The only characters I had any sympathy for were the staff and consequently the only genuine tension I felt was near the end of the book when one of these characters goes off and does something ridiculously dangerous. Unsurprisingly I flew through that section of the novel because I was worried about their safety. If I’d felt similarly about any of the potential victims then the rest of the book, including the eventual reveals, would have been similarly gripping.
Overall: The Hunting Party is an ambitious murder mystery which works hard to maintain two threads of suspense and I’m sure many readers will find it an enjoyable read. Sadly I needed to care more about the members of the party to become involved in the gradual revelation of the victim and killer.
Claire Huston / Art and Soul