Book Chat: ’55’ by James Delargy

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

I was completely lured into 55 by the premise. On a hot afternoon in Willbrook, a small remote town in West Australia, an injured man stumbles into a police station and speaks with Sergeant Chandler Jenkins. He claims that he was drugged and taken to a cabin in the woods to be chained to a wall. His name is Gabriel, and he was kidnapped by a man named Heath who told Gabriel that he would be victim number 55.  A little while later, another man is brought in to the station. He tells Chandler that his name is Heath, that he was kidnapped and imprisoned by a man named Gabriel, a man who told Heath that he would be victim number 55.  COOL, RIGHT?!

And for a while, it really was. The two men continue to give conflicting statements and the police try desperately to puzzle out which one they ought to be protecting. The stifling heat, the small town police force facing dealing with a serial killer, the confusion. It was also really nice to read a book set in Australia and the way that the novel plays on the unforgiving environment is brilliant. The first third was taut, tense and everything else that you could want from a thriller.

Unfortunately, it loses its way. Fearing the local force to be in over its head, a larger force is drafted in to help. Sadly for Chandler, they’re led by Mitch, an old friend-turned-enemy. Chandler and Mitch seemingly hate each other, apparently caring more about undermining each other than about stopping a serial killer. Running alongside the main plot is a story from both men’s past that I think is meant to explain the animosity. Only it doesn’t. We’re meant to believe that one of these men has let the other down so badly that they’re almost incapable of working together. We’re told it frequently, but I never bought it. The side story was also very repetitive and got rather annoying rather quickly. I’m sure that a manhunt in the Australian wilderness is in fact very repetitive but I just don’t want to trudge through reading numerous pages of walking and the same ‘should we/shouldn’t we call this off?’ musings.

Those chapters were short enough that I still found 55 very readable but they did disturb what was otherwise quite a clever plot. The characters were all pretty one-dimensional (there’s a New Constable, a Womanising Constable, a Nagging Mother and so on…) but I’m fairly relaxed about overlooking failings like that for a good twisty thriller. But then came the ending. Oh, the ending. From a browse of Goodreads (carried out after finishing with a shocked look on my face no doubt), some readers love it because it is different and certainly unexpected. Others, like me, don’t. It’s hard to really grumble without spoiling it for readers who do still love the sound of the plot but I just felt completely blind-sided. It’s ambiguous, which I can sort of live with, but it’s also very unsatisfying. The book lost a whole star in a few pages. I’m still grumpy about it 24 hours later and I feel cheated.

Overall: This is tricky. I don’t feel like I can whole-heartedly recommend 55 knowing full well what readers are running into. And yet it’s actually quite an entertaining read, and something a bit different to the more often seen thrillers set in the US and UK. I suppose actually that’s the best thing to take from this review – there’s good, there’s bad and it’s all very confusing and conflicting emotions will abound!


Date finished: 25 January 2019

Pictured edition published: by Simon and Schuster UK in April 2019

Source: Bought

Book Chat: ‘The Hunting Party’ by Lucy Foley

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