The Journal Gazette
Sunday, June 28, 2020 1:00 am

Top of the List

Island wedding backdrop to juicy murder mystery

CHRISTY KELLER | The Journal Gazette

When a perfect couple plans an extravagant wedding weekend with family and old friends, it should be an unforgettable event. When someone dies – how could it not be?

Told from five different points of view, Lucy Foley's “The Guest List” is an intricately woven whodunit murder mystery that has all the hallmarks of a great twisty thriller but with a unique flair. 

Jules, the bride, is a strong-willed, confident magazine publisher. Will, the groom, is a newly famous TV star oozing with charm and good looks. As the story slowly unravels on a menacing island off the coast of Ireland, it becomes clear that everything is not as perfect as it seems. Everybody has a secret. Most have more than one.

Reminiscent of the board game Clue, Foley reveals a cast of five characters who all have a motive to be the killer, unless they end up dead first. The bride, Jules. The wedding planner, Aoife. The plus-one, Hannah. The best man, Johnno. The bridesmaid, Olivia. Each time the point of view shifts, Foley brings that character's motive to light. 

As the wedding party and guests arrive, tension builds slowly like a storm over the sea. Aoife has never hosted an event on the island. She and her husband are the only island inhabitants and she has a dark history in this place she now calls home. Opening the island to strangers has the wedding planner wrecked with anxiety. Is there more to her worry than just the details of the wedding?

Olivia is not only a bridesmaid, but the bride's half-sister. The sibling rivalry between Jules and Olivia goes well beyond any normal family dysfunction. Olivia, the coined black sheep of the family, appears unstable due to a recent breakup. As her story unfolds, readers soon find that her “breakup” was actually a disaster on steroids. 

The best man, Johnno, is an old school buddy of the groom's. He's the not-so-bright best friend who is a bit of an unkempt slob and feels inferior to Will. His envy and jealousy bubble to the surface when it's disclosed that Johnno holds secrets from the school days – secrets that make Will's smile tighten. 

Hannah, the plus-one, is married to the bride's best friend, Charlie. It appears that Hannah is just along for a weekend, taking a break from her kids with hopes of reconnecting with her husband. Or is she? When a light bulb goes off in her head, a realization from her past brings her motive to the front of the line. 

The timeline teeters back and forth between the day before the wedding and the actual event. Just as a storm would brew, this slow burn of a mystery starts building into a page-flipping read. The wind is howling, the wedding guests are drunk, the band is growing louder, secrets reveal themselves one by one, tempers flare ... “And then the lights go out.”

After Foley introduces her cast, she starts revealing how they intertwine with lies and betrayals. It felt as though a chart may be needed to keep all the relationships and transgressions straight. Some of the confusion is from embellishments about background characters and unnecessary tangents that felt a bit overplayed. The final third of the book brings the focus back to the mystery and leaves the extraneous stories behind. 

As the action snowballs, Foley presents possible outcomes so well that this novel will keep the reader second-guessing even what they think are well-thought-out conclusions. With multiple unpredictable secrets that intersect, this book is a mystery until the end. Revealing the tragedy in the first chapter of the book keeps interest heightened throughout the entire read.

“The Guest List” is a page-turner that will have readers thinking twice before returning a wedding RSVP.

Christy Keller is a page designer for The Journal Gazette.

Sign up for our Opinion newsletter

Sent daily