By Lucy Foley, A slow-burning mystery-thriller set on an island off the coast of West Ireland
The Guest List by Lucy Foley was released in February 2020, but was chosen as one of Reese’s Book Club Picks for June 2020 (there were two this month).
It’s been a while since I’ve read a straight-up mystery-thriller, and I’m trying to switch back and forth when it comes to reading serious books vs more entertaining books. When I started seeing this one around everywhere, it seemed as good a reason as any to check it out.
See the Full Plot Synopsis & Summary for The Guest List by Lucy Foley (spoilers). For the spoiler-free version:
On a small island off the coast of West Ireland, guests have gathered for the wedding of online magazine publisher Julia “Jules” Keegan and celebrity host and survivalist William Slater. They’ve gathered their relatives and loved ones to celebrate in true destination wedding style, with plenty of champagne and fashionable people.
But as a storm brews, the guests and their shared histories collide with one another, and when the lights go out, a body is found. The question that remains is, who did it and why?
See The Guest List on Amazon.
The book starts off by assembling a colorful cast of characters in a unique and atmospheric venue. The wedding is such a great setting for a murder mystery, don’t you think? Fancy clothes, lots of booze and so many people being forced to mingle is pretty much the perfect setup for a little mayhem.
The Guest List is a semi-closed room mystery. Which is to say that, there’s a set amount of characters and they are all (more or less) in one place when the murder occurs. So, it’s set on a small private island, and all the people on the island are staying at this property. There’s a limited number of people who could have done it, and you’re trying to figure out who it could be.
Foley does a great job of giving all the characters enough backstory so it leaves it up for grabs as to where your attention should be focused, and more importantly who could be the killer. I read some reviews where people had found the multiple points of view confusing, but I didn’t think it was hard to follow. Instead, I think the multiple points of view add a lot to the story and worked well. Perhaps your mileage will differ.
It should be noted that this story takes a while — like, a looong while — to really get underway. You know from page one that something has happened (a loud scream and soon, a body!), but for a long stretch through the book, there’s mostly just insinuations, stuff that seems ominous but are just pranks and people hinting at secrets. By the halfway point, I was pretty ready to throw in the towel if there wasn’t a real plot development very soon. I’m also very much not a fan of fakeouts (he’s holding something in his hand! oh, it’s just a flashlight — that type of thing) and there are quite a few in this book, especially in the earlier sections.
At the sixty percent mark, I was officially out of patience. (In my mind, I had started writing an absolutely scathing review.) I was also reading an e-book, so I was acutely aware of my progress. But then, finally, thankfully, stuff started to happen.
Once the plot was actually moving forward, I very quickly got back on board. Stuff comes together in a way that fits together surprisingly well and it draws in a lot of small details that appear earlier in the book, which I loved. The atmosphere of the storm raging and howling all around them as the book nears its finale and brings all its narrative threads together is gratifying and fun. And I was pleased that all the characters basically behave in ways that make sense and is consistent with how humans behave (which often can’t be said of some thrillers).
I do wish the mystery aspects weren’t so back-loaded though. It’s not that the the beginning is boring (it’s not), it’s that I like trying to guess what the ending is or what’s going to happen next, but when the plot has made almost no progression, there’s really nothing to go on. By the time there’s enough information to start guessing, it’s already too late since everything starts unraveling at a really fast pace.
Read it or Skip it?
The Guest List has a slow buildup that results in a pretty solid mystery, but the pacing of it is unfortunate. It starts too slow and then everything gets revealed quite quickly. Still, I really liked the atmosphere of it, the multiple coherent storylines running through it, and the many small details that end up resurfacing.
The New York Times Book Review described this as “evoking the great Agatha Christie classics,” and as much as I did enjoy parts of this — sorry, but no. You should probably lower your expectations. But it is a thriller that does a good job of coming together in the end, even if there are a few-too-many fake-outs, some cheesy lines and a first half that may test your patience. PornHub also gets multiple shoutouts in this book, so you can draw whatever conclusions you’d like from that.
This is definitely one just for mystery-thriller fans. (I also wouldn’t recommend buying it for any young readers as it does have more “adult” aspects of it’s plot.) I read it over one weekend and for whatever flaws it has, I did enjoy the mystery. There’s enough cleverness in there that you’ll likely feel it was worth the time.
See The Guest List on Amazon.
Detailed Book Summary (Spoilers)
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