Lucy Foley turns her pen to a contemporary thriller set in the Scottish Highlands with The Hunting Party, where the strength of a long-standing friendship group is truly put to the test.
Every New Year, a group of Oxford alumni reunite to celebrate and reminisce, to catch up with each other’s lives. Now all in their early thirties, priorities are shifting – new relationships, new jobs, new motivations. But New Year is dedicated to this friendship.
2018 is Emma’s year to take charge and organise proceedings. As the newest member of the group – Mark’s girlfriend – she feels she has a lot to prove. Miranda, the undisputed group leader, has high standards; new parents Samira and Giles must be kept happy; and Katie, of course, whom Emma has always felt an unspoken rivalry with,. She chooses a remote Lodge in the Scottish Highlands, where they can all unwind in the scenic isolation of the mountains and the Loch. It’s not quite to everyone’s tastes, but it will do.
In the early hours of New Year’s Day, though, tragedy strikes. One of the group is reported missing. With the weather worsening and emergency services unable to reach them, it’s up to the manager, Heather, and the gamekeeper, Doug, to keep order, and to keep the police informed. But then a body is discovered…
I seemed to see this book promoted all over my Twitter feed and now I can see why. It’s an excellent read, delivering some well-crafted twists and a truly eerie atmosphere to surround the story.
Foley did a great job with the narrative structure, providing two parallel but connected strands to build up the picture for us. It starts with Heather, the Lodge’s manager, who is narrating from 2nd January 2019, after the body has been discovered. The other narrative strand begins on 30th December 2018, the day the group arrived at the Lodge, and switches between various characters, who take up the story where the last left it. This allows for a sense of continuous movement in perspective and in chronology, while also allowing for a more intimate insight into the key players in the mystery.
The structure also allowed for a gradual unravelling of the close-knit friendship group, revealing that the ties between them are not what they first appear to be. It tapped into some fascinating current ideas about nostalgia and maintaining old relationships alongside newer ones. Though childhood and university friendships can be incredible, Foley also looks at the darker, unhealthy aspects of them: the sense of staying in touch through habit rather than through genuine desire; of always wanting to recapture or relive one’s ‘golden years’ by staying in the company of those who were there. The severe isolation of the Lodge meant that these friends were forced to confront their true feelings about each other, and themselves, without any outside distractions. The repurcussions of this are great and for some, tragic.
“I suppose we all carry around different versions of ourselves.”
I thought the revelations that built up to the climatic moments (yes, plural) were well paced, and character driven, which made them feel much more authentic and meaningful. Uncovering so many truths and betrayals could so easily have led to a derailing of the plot, but Foley allowed each of them enough time to settle, to cause ripples, and so add substance to the motivations of another suspect.
Keeping the identity of the victim secret until the end did cause some rather contrived ‘speaking around the subject’ moments, but overall it worked well. The whittling down of suspects was great; it happened almost invisibly, so suddenyly we were confronted with just a small number of potential characters. The concluding chapters were incredibly tense, with moments I certainly couldn’t have guessed at.
The parallel narrative focusing on Heather and Doug was just as engaging, each of them harbouring secrets of their own. These secrets are what has driven them to occupy positions in this secluded spot, but they, like their guests, discover that running away from secrets doesn’t make them disappear. Their narratives were particularly poignant, I thought: their experiences felt much more grounded, and their distinction from the increasingly toxic group helped with that.
“Remove all the distractions and here, in the silence and solitude, the demons they have kept at bay catch up with them.”
The depiction of the landscape added to the tense atmosphere by effectively mirroring the dynamics of the friendship group. Beautiful and serene from afar, but delving deeper – the snow, the mountains, the loch – it’s hars, dark, and dangerous.
If anything irked me about the book, it was certain aspects of the characters, especially certain ones that I’m not sure I was supposed to find as grating as I did. Some of it may have been intentional, but the excess and entitlement of so many of them really put me off. Linked with this, the dialogue had a tendency to veer into cliché that took me out of the story.
I’d have also liked some extra insight to some of the more ‘peripheral’ characters, for want of a better word. Even some of the friends seemed to become silenced or two-dimensional towards the end, and I feel adding more of their perspective may have added further mystery and balance to the proceedings. However, this was a minor quibble, and just my personal preference (I can see how doing so may have taken away from the pace and tension Foley was building up).
I would definitely recommend reading The Hunting Party if you like contemporary thrillers and mysteries. This is a great story, with some clever plotting to deliver great twists. It’s a wonderful, gripping read from Lucy Foley!
*The Hunting Party, by Lucy Foley, was published in the UK by HarperCollins in 2019.