Mysteries are one of those hit-or-miss genres for me. Sometimes I’m able to guess the big twist or outcome or both within the first 100 pages, and then lose my patience with the rest of the narrative and the cast for not getting there faster. Sometimes the author includes wild twists for the sake of sensationalism that come out of left and field couldn’t have been predicted. Both types of mystery novels drive me a little crazy. The Guest List was neither of those. Told in a way that leaves you guessing without the sensationalism and populated with an interesting group of characters, I was invested through the final pages.
“In my experience, those who have the greatest respect for the rules also take the most enjoyment in breaking them.”
Foley has this narrative dexterity that vaguely brought to mind Agatha Christie if she wrote in 2020. The story is told via divided timeline, but that division is in actuality less than 48 hours. The narrative jumps back and forth between the immediate aftermath of something awful happening at a end of a wedding, though we don’t know what that something awful is, and the lead up to said wedding, starting the day prior. The leading-up portion of the book is where we spend most of our time, and where we get to know the main characters: Jules, the bride; Olivia, the bridesmaid; Johnno, the best man; Aoife, the wedding planner; and Hannah, the plus one. As we spend more time with these characters, learning their pain and fears and motivations, it becomes harder to predict who will be victim or perpetrator or neither. But everyone has a reason to want someone dead. The cast was compelling and pretty well balanced. In just about every character, there were attributes that made me like them and flaws that spoke of long-abiding inner demons. As the book moved into its fever pitch at the end, I truly didn’t know who would strike the killing blow. This varied, tortured, likable cast is the way in which this novel felt most reminiscent of Christie to me.
“And I’m not worried about it being haunted. I have my own ghosts. I carry them with me wherever I go.”
The wedding of Jules, a lifestyle magazine editor, and Will, the star of a survival show, is a big deal. Though the two aren’t massive celebrities, they’re famous enough to rate a fairy tale celebrity wedding on a secluded island. The guest list is exclusive, and it promises to be an event to remember. I loved the setting, a remote island off the coast of Ireland. It was moody and ominous and the perfect site for a mystery/thriller. The wedding part of the premise was fine, though I’m not a huge fan of stories in which the narrative hinges on a wedding. It’s a choice that feels overused to me, though Foley utilized it to great affect in this novel. Social media played a pretty large role in the lives of some of the characters, and there’s something about a strong inclusion of such things that I feel impedes novels like this from feeling potentially timeless, but that’s a personal opinion.
“So to luck. And to making your own luck… or giving it a little helping hand, when it needs it.”
I enjoyed The Guest List. I didn’t love it, and it wouldn’t have been my choice for mystery of the year. I think Stuart Turton’s The Devil and the Dark Water totally deserves that honor, in my eyes at least if not in the eyes of Goodreads. But I don’t regret picking it up, and I found it interesting enough to add more of Foley’s work to my TBR. If you’re looking for an atmospheric mystery set very much in today’s world, with an interesting cast and a plot that is neither too easy nor impossible to predict, The Guest List might be just what you’re craving.
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