Jen’s hen party is going to be out of control…
She’s rented a luxury getaway on its own private island. The helicopter won’t be back for seventy-two hours. They are alone. They think.
As well as Jen, there’s the pop diva and the estranged ex-bandmate, the tennis pro and the fashion guru, the embittered ex-sister-in-law and the mouthy future sister-in-law.
It’s a combustible cocktail, one that takes little time to ignite, and in the midst of the drunken chaos, one of them disappears. Then a message tells them that unless someone confesses her terrible secret to the others, their missing friend will be killed.
Problem is, everybody has a secret. And nobody wants to tell.
I realise I’m somewhat of an outlier on this one, but having never read Chris Brookmyre before I was really excited by the buzz that the announcement of the Cliff House received between members of The Pigeonhole online book club, and so was very much looking forward to reading it.
The premise is solid, a locked room mystery scenario that’s grown in popularity in recent years where the protagonists are locked in by location, and nature, in a desolate landscape rather than within a set of four walls. A group of women, ostensibly ‘friends’, head off to a remote Scottish island to have some fun and downtime on a hen do. Jen the bride-to-be is a second time hen after she was widowed some years ago, and I liked the idea of her friends being closer to middle age than their teens as it seemed to lend the story a more unique edge than other books I have read with a similar theme.
We were introduced to a lot of characters right from the off and I found it a bit tricky to keep on top of who everyone was and what all of their relationships to each other and personal circumstances were. I thought I might need to crack out a notepad at one point. Once I got my head around the vast cast list the headcount started to go down and with suspicion falling on each of the guests, I started to realise that none of the characters seemed very nice. They all had murderous, criminal or negligent secrets in their past and when they started to come to light I liked them even less. I felt it unlikely that that group of women would have agreed to be together for the event in the first place, they mostly just really disliked each other (with good reason it turns out). As the book progressed, there were regular cliffhangers mostly followed by smaller reveals along the way. Some of the ‘twists’ felt really obvious – perhaps purposefully, there were a few clever red herrings thrown in, and even one or two moments when I really wasn’t expecting *that* to happen, but I did feel that the bigger, more explosive reveals were not the surprise I had hoped for. In the last 20% as we headed towards the resolution things started to get way too far fetched for me, and I know other reviewers will say you have to suspend disbelief in this genre, and “c’mon, it’s fiction after all” but it was just too much for me for it to feel believable.
In all honesty I do wonder if some of the reviewers are such fans of the author that they are seeing this novel through far rosier tinted specs than I was wearing. I think if this book had been marketed as a debut novel by a new author then the ratings wouldn’t be as high as they are and unfortunately, I was left feeling a little underwhelmed. I’m not sure if it was the hype (I hate that hype often leads to unfair, ‘too-high’ expectations and so, in turn, a higher risk of disappointment). Obviously this is only my personal opinion and it may be that reading in daily staves with the Pigeonhole didn’t suit this book for me whereas it did others. It reminded me of Down to the Water and The Guest List, neither of which I was very fond of because I didn’t like the characters enough (or even dislike them enough for that matter) to really care what happened to them.
The author is obviously skilled with words; the characters are well drawn out and the dynamics between them were cleverly addressed to leave you unsure about who was telling the truth and who was hiding more than they were telling. The writing itself was descriptive and drew the bleak and frightening landscape very well, and the dialogue was excellent with some fantastic, acerbic wit and several colloquialisms that had me rushing to google. One line in particular delivered right near the end of the book almost made me laugh out loud it was so unexpected, but unfortunately for me, it was one of the the only thing in the plot that was.
So unfortunately, not a great first experience with the author for me but I will be looking up some of his earlier novels as he is obviously a talented writer and it may just be that this one was just not the one for me.
Published July 28th by Little Brown
About the Author: Chris Brookmyre
Chris Brookmyre was a journalist before becoming a full-time novelist with the publication of his award-winning debut Quite Ugly One Morning, which established him as one of Britain’s leading crime authors. His novels have sold more than two million copies in the UK alone, and Black Widow won both the McIlvanney Prize and the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award.