Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
All of them are friends. One of them is a killer.
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?
Agatha Christie is one of my favourite authors, and my absolute go-to if I want a quick comfort read fix. If publishers declare one of their books as a book for fans of hers, I’ll almost definitely be lured in but you can bet your bottom dollar that I’m judging that book just a little more harshly than I otherwise might. Thankfully The Hunting Party fared well even with the Christie comparison lurking in the back of my mind.
The premise isn’t that unique – a group of old friends head to a lodge in the middle of nowhere in the Scottish highlands for a New Year’s Eve celebration. A snowstorm sweeps in and cuts the lodge off from the rest of civilisation, which becomes all the more unfortunate when one of the group is murdered. There are plenty of novels treading that familiar ground. And while I wouldn’t go so far as to say The Hunting Party was a complete revelation in crime fiction, there is enough that will keep you guessing to make it worth a few hours of your time on a gloomy evening this winter. In this slight twist on the classic, readers are kept in the dark not only on the identity of the murderer but also the identity of the victim. Obviously we know that someone has died from the opening couple of chapters, but not who. There are chapters following the group on New Year’s Day after discovery of a body, while most are set a couple of days earlier and show the celebrations starting out and gradually souring.
To be honest, there were moments where I would have been happy for every single one of the characters to be the unlucky one. If you’re one of those readers who needs to like and identify with the characters in a novel, The Hunting Party probably isn’t for you. This bunch of Oxbridge graduates is pretty gross. They’re all varying degrees of pretentious, selfish and mean-spirited. They treat each other appallingly and there are grudges and secrets that gradually out. I wouldn’t have wanted to spend one actual night with the group but I was completely obsessed with reading about them. I know it’s a cliche when it comes to thrillers but I did absolutely tear through this and it’s so easy to just keep turning the pages.
Alongside all of that victim-murderer headline plot are some smaller, more personal mysteries. Looking after the lodge guests are Heather and Doug, both of whom clearly have their own reasons for taking a job on an estate in the middle of nowhere. The novel shifts perspectives, with Heather and Doug both providing outsiders’ views on the central group and narrating the ‘present day’ sections. In some thriller novels, there are chapters that are weaker and there to just move along the plot but I was still invested in Heather and Doug and there were no lulls in pace for me. Just a solid thriller all round!
Overall: Winter is the perfect time to pick up The Hunting Party! For British readers, it’s also surprisingly nice to read a book with British slang and current cultural references. It’s sharp and so readable and witty. Get on it.
Date finished: 10 December 2019
Pictured edition published: by HarperCollins UK in January 2019
Source: Received from the publisher via NetGalley