Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Lucy Foley has decided to treat us to yet another instant classic, this time drawing inspiration from the timeless works of Agatha Christie in her latest novel titled The Guest List. A whodunit murder mystery at heart, it takes us to a remote wedding celebration between a rising television star and a magazine publisher. Everything seemed slated for perfection, until a body suddenly turns up, sparing none from the lens of suspicion.
Table of contents
Lucy Foley Summons the Guests of Dishonour
Wedding celebrations are meant to be a time of pure joy and regalement, an opportunity for people to come together and celebrate a supposedly lifelong unison, a beautiful thing in and of itself.
While in real life they often go through without too much trouble, the same can’t be said for their presence in whodunit murder mystery novels, where they always seem to be the setting of a terrible crime, as is the case in Lucy Foley‘s The Guest List.
Essentially taking us back to the good old times of Agatha Christie‘s mystery books, Foley transports us to an island off the coast of Ireland where a few people gather to celebrate an important wedding planned to perfection, uniting a rising movie star and an ambitious magazine publisher. It’s a match made in heaven.
However, it doesn’t take too long for the facade of unadulterated joy to start fading away when the merriment begins. Small jealousies, envies, and bits of hatred begin seeping through the conversations, and it becomes apparent the wedding is going to be anything but perfect. From the bridesmaid’s dress being ruined to an uncomfortable toast, the missteps seemingly keep piling up… until a body is discovered.
Away from civilization with only each other to blame and suspect, the guests will have to resort to their own devices to keep themselves safe, all while trying to figure out who the real culprit is behind it all, and perhaps more importantly, why they’re doing it in the first place. In the end, it seems the only thing which got planned with perfection, was the ruination of the newlyweds.
Seeing through the Eyes of those on The Guest List
While there are book genres which should, in my opinion, always strive to move forward and evolve from one generation to the next along with modern society (such as horror and science fiction), there are also those I would be happy to see remain stagnant, so-to-speak.
The whodunit murder mystery is one such genre, largely because I believe we’ve more or less perfected the ideas, formulas and techniques which can be used to draw the most out of it. At the end of the day, it aims to entertain us with a challenge, a puzzle we’re urged to solve before reaching the end. When it comes to The Guest List plot, I would say on the whole, it doesn’t exactly try to push the boundaries of the genre or explore ambitious new horizons.
In my experience, those who have the greatest respect for the rules also take the most enjoyment in breaking them.― Lucy Foley, The Guest List
Rather, for the most part, it sticks to the tried-and-true conventions of the genre, but there is one technique Foley used which we don’t see too much of, and it’s constantly shifting points of view between all the important characters. When I say we don’t see it much, I mean in this particular literary genre, largely because most authors can’t pull it off without making it confusing.
Foley, on the other hand, uses this technique to its fullest potential, allowing us to catch meaningful glimpses of the individual puzzles each character represents, without ever pushing their actions too quickly to make them hard to follow.
She does an excellent job at curating which information to share or conceal through these different perspectives, always pushing us to wonder about small details and curiosities, trying to understand where exactly they all fit into the overarching puzzle. Instead of being confused by the many perspectives, I find they work in a complementary fashion and make the plot of The Guest List more exciting for the amount of movement it generates.
The Return of the Deadly Countryside
If you’ve read some of my other murder mystery reviews, then you’ll probably know how much I enjoy the British countryside setting for how absolutely deadly it seems to be, at least if the novels are to be trusted. The setting does seem to have taken a bit of a back-seat in general, but I am very much glad to see it return in full force for what is ultimately a good bit of fun.
But no matter what happens, life is only a series of days. You can’t control more than a single day.― Lucy Foley, The Guest List
There is seldom a dull moment, and it seems like virtually everything on the island is prepared to claim the guests’ lives. Between the cliffs, riptides, quicksand, bog, and obviously the very human murderer, it feels like miracle if even one person makes it out alive. This sense of constant danger prevents us from ever really settling into a comfortable mindset where we feel like we can confidently predict what will come next. Rest assured, while some twists do feel abrupt at first glance, they all do make logical sense within the context of the story. Foley doesn’t just throw madness and danger at us for the mere sake of it.
Apart from worrying about the fates of the various characters, we also still very much have a mystery to solve, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say it will be remembered as one of the best this year. There are plenty of small details, both in the past and present, which are carefully dispersed throughout the story for the attentive readers who will want to try and put them all together.
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Every piece of the puzzle fits snugly in its own specific crease, and if like me you enjoy being the detective beyond the pages, you too will have a real blast assembling your solution and seeing how close you were to the truth.
The Final Verdict
The Guest List by Lucy Foley is a throwback of the best kind, putting us in the middle of a good old-fashioned whodunit murder mystery with an excellent plot, a relentless pace, devious and developed characters, and a point-of-view switching device handled with complete mastery.
If you enjoy Agatha Christie‘s novels and are looking for a murder thriller which radiates of the good old golden epoch of the genre, then I strongly recommend you give this novel a shot.
Lucy Foley is an English author from Sussex who studied English literature at Durham University and worked for a number of years as a fiction editor. She began her career as an author with her first published work coming out in 2015, The Book of Lost and Found, and most notably wrote two highly-acclaimed bestsellers in The Hunting Party and The Guest List.