Peculiar as it may seem, Ruth Ware’s modern-day Christie novels mimic Queen of Crime Agatha Christie in certain respects, with Lucy Foley writing today’s “popcorn reads” in the same style, but featuring a greater dose of drama and exaggerated elements. In addition to that, Foley also establishes a delightful mix of suspense, both classic and wicked, as well as characters with a dramatic bent in her superb crime debut, The Hunting Party, and reinforces that foundation in THE GUEST LIST. The closest way I can think to characterize Foley’s writing is to imagine you’re reading a mashup of an Agatha Christie mystery and a gossip newspaper. For readers of evocative, classic crime-inspired suspense, Foley’s books are “popcorn reads.” They are skillfully constructed mysteries and time-dependent riddles, and they are equally fascinating to see as they are engrossing for the reader to experience.
Foley infuses his “locked room mystery” with a modern perspective in THE GUEST LIST. The place: an isolated island off the coast of Ireland, a site haunted by the phantom of a violent past. A fantastic mystery setting! The characters are a “golden couple” who own and operate a highly successful digital magazine. They are also the protagonists of a newly released reality TV show, where he is known as “the face of survival.” And, not to be forgotten, are roughly 100 extended family and friends, all of whom will arrive on the island as our story progresses. Our beautiful couple getting married has prompted us to work even harder to make sure the event is nothing short of perfect. We’ve focused on every aspect of the celebration, from the food to the scents of candles that will be burned throughout the reception. It will be one of the most talked-about weddings in the country, perhaps even worldwide, and it just might be, but not for the reasons our bride and husband envision.
During the ceremony, as all of the wedding party comes together and rekindles old connections and old loves, dormant tensions begin to reemerge. One of the group will be murdered at the end of the wedding weekend. What terrible misfortune will befall the story’s victim? It’s anyone’s guess who the killer will be. What drives the killer to kill? While traditional mystery novels usually contain who did it until the end of the book, THE GUEST LIST is unique in that the crime isn’t revealed until the end of the book. The tension will grip the reader because the reader will know what’s going to happen before it does. But the awareness of this impending disaster will also produce dramatic and entertaining events as we draw nearer to this catastrophic tipping point.
While our story focuses on the two main characters (our bride and groom), our plot is not limited to them. Foley does an excellent job integrating multiple narrators to flesh out each character’s backstory throughout the film’s whole. As the story unfolds, the guests, their attendants, the wedding planner, a plus-one at the wedding, and even a childhood friend of the groom all narrate The Guest List, bringing the reader into closer and closer contact with the controversial facts concealed inside the narrative. If alternating narrators are handled incorrectly, the story will be muddled and disjointed. However, when it comes to choosing narrators and designing the story, Foley is at her finest.
The GUEST LIST has chapters that subtly segue from one narrator’s most recent section into the next, ensuring readers will keep reading. This structure is an absolute blast, and it’s also absolutely critical to solving the story’s main narrative conundrum. A clever reader will begin to see that Foley has sprinkled various clues to figure out “whodunit” across her book’s narrators’ varied views. You could initially assume that the bride and groom are the main players in this wedding with the most to hide, but in reality, almost everyone in attendance has some secret or dark matter that is hidden (or under a coat sleeve). Because everyone in this sparkling, flashy crowd could be a suspect, everyone should remain vigilant.
The GUEST LIST has a surprising weight at its foundation, in many ways being a “popcorn reading.” As readers uncover the secrets of the persons on the THE GUEST LIST, they will discover that many of these characters are dealing with enormous responsibilities. The main part of this story is full of glitz, glitter, and over-the-top pleasure, but there are sombre elements intertwined as well. The novel is nothing particularly dark or sinister; it’s just a tremendously amusing read, a “popcorn book” in every meaning of the phrase. To be sure, it is completely to the author’s credit that she manages to incorporate a number of topics which might feel relevant to readers, like marital difficulties, mourning, and body image, into an otherwise over-the-top suspense novel.
Title: The Guest List
Author: Lucy Foley
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2020
ISBN: 0062868934, 9780062868930
Length: 320 pages
Subjects: Fiction › Thrillers › Suspense