Book Review: The Guest List by Lucy Foley
By Ray PalenJune 11, 2020
Author Lucy Foley does everything possible to not only channel Dame Agatha Christie but to also create a setting for a psychological thriller/murder mystery that is simply ideal. A remote island just off the coast of Ireland at a Mansion run by a young couple for special occasions. The wife, Aoife is a wedding/party planner and her husband, Freddy is the cook. The occasion is the wedding of Will and Julia (who goes by Jules). There is a select group of friends and family invited for the weekend and the weather forecast is, of course, calling for serious storms and a ton of rain. Sounds like the perfect place to kill someone!
With her latest release, The Guest List, Lucy Foley goes the distance in character creation as she drills down in-depth on all the major players so that the reader will have enough information to try and figure out whodunit when a dead body eventually turns up. The set-up of the novel not only flips back and forth in time, with the wedding night being the ‘present time’, but also lets each of the primary characters narrate the many chapters right through to the eye-opening finale. It’s a gimmick used way too often in modern mystery/thrillers and only the most astute writer will be able to keep from becoming hackneyed and predictable. It’s safe to say that Lucy Foley does a masterful job with writing within these confines and readers really feel like they are slipping into the skin and mind of each character as they narrate their bits.
Rather than throwing a dead body at you early on and then tracing back into each of the character’s lives, Foley lets the drama unfold in real time and actually holds the murder until the very last part of the novel, occurring on the wedding night itself. This allows you to try to figure out who and why based on all the information you have already consumed. Rather than rehashing the events, I will instead introduce the characters you will be spending time with on the island. We have already discussed our hosts, Aoife and Freddy, as well as the bride and groom, Will and Jules. The most critical thing to know about Will is that he is something of a media star currently starring in a ‘survival-type’ of TV reality series. It is also important to know that the best man, Johnno, is quite mad at Will because he was also up for that series and learned through Will’s agent that Will talked Johnno down and got his name taken out of contention for the TV show.
Our bridesmaid is Olivia, also Jules’ half-sister. We find out that Olivia and Will had a fling when Olivia was barely legal to do such things. Jules is not happy about this. Hannah, called the ‘Plus-one’, is there as a date for Charlie. Charlie is Jules’ best friend since childhood and they also had a fling at one point—something that reignited the flame Charlie has always kept for Jules. Of course, Hannah is not very pleased about this. We also have a litany of groomsmen who all went to College with Will, a place where much upper-class debauchery and rituals took place, some of which get exposed during the wedding weekend.
Just add a ton of alcohol and some illegal drugs to the set-up and you really have the makings for a tinder-box of a story set to explode at any moment. Personally, I would have liked for the murder to have taken place a bit sooner, but I do confess that I fell deep into this novel and kept turning the pages like I was binge-watching a murderous soap opera. The Guest List entertains, surprises, and makes for great beach and/or locked down summer reading!