Reviewed in the United States on January 2, 2020
This is my first read of the new year,
and it’s a one-star.
Lord, help me!
First and foremost: I disliked all of the characters (with the exception of Doug, the gamekeeper, and Heather, the lodge keeper.
The guests, however, were of a different sort.
Privileged, pretty, successful, whiny thirty-somethings.
It made for a truly unenjoyable reading experience.
I'm all for unlikeable characters, but these were the worst, because there was no one to root for.
I didn't care who dies.
I didn't care who did it.
Biggest complaint: I wasn’t a fan of all the character POVs (and by extension: the writing itself). Each character sounded like they were reading from a script, or like they were talking to me directly, trying to convince me of something—as though they’ve been tasked with describing their lives and that of their “friends” to an audience/reader—it felt totally inorganic and took me out of the story entirely. And I’ve said it before, so I’ll say it again: multiple POVs, when done right, are a worthy addition to any whodunnit/mystery novel. For example- the recent 'In the Dark' by Loreth Anne White utilized multiple character points of view to great effect. But here, each POV felt forced—like the author herself is telling us who these characters are in their inner dialogues, instead of the characters themselves. Does that make sense? It doesn’t feel like it’s the characters describing each other, most of it literally being: “she’s the wild one” “he’s the offensive one” “she’s the quiet one...and here’s why that is”.
*I’ve confirmed that the characters are speaking directly to the us. 176 pages in, one of the characters says, “...in case you were wondering” and then “You’re just going to have to take my word for it.” Like, what?!?!? We’re given no indication that “you” is anyone other than us, the reader. Why why why was it written like this?? I absolutely hated it!!!
And for the entirety of the book, it’s only 5 POVs out of the full 11+ characters (and that’s not even including the Icelandic couple and Iain). I just find that dumb, really. Either it should’ve been all of them (which would’ve made sense, but, frankly, have been too many), or two (Heather or Doug’s for the present, and one of the guests for the days before). That’s it. I don’t know why the author chose solely Katie, Emma, and Miranda. As for Doug and Heather... I swear, every single one of their chapters had the lines, “But I don’t really know him/her at all”. Like, I get it, you both have dark, haunted pasts that remain a mystery to everyone. It didn’t heighten the overlaying mystery at all... it was just annoying! Most of the other characters are just... there-- (Nick & Bo, Samira & Giles, Mark, Julien... and the dang baby I just completely forgot about). They had no real characterizations whatsoever outside of more convoluted motives (except the baby, of course). I just saw no purpose in having them even there at all.
Something else that became excruciatingly tedious: Everyone reminiscing about the past... which I understand is the point of their whole trip, but if they’d been making these same trips every year for a decade, you’d think they’d stop being like, “Ooooh, remember when...” or “Don’t you recall that time...” or “Just like when we used to...” every page. It was an annoying way to dump all this expository background info on these characters by having them repeatedly wax nostalgic. It got old, fast.
From the beginning, we know that someone’s dead. And throughout the novel, we get a ridiculous list of potential suspects that are mentioned or alluded to (ex: unlawful poachers and a weird train station agent). Then, 71 pages into the story, someone is (maybe, possibly) lurking around in the woods, and right after it’s revealed (more like unnecessarily thrown-in) that a serial killer is roaming the highlands nearby. I thought these additions did a disservice to the story for two reasons: 1. They’re such blatant, clunky red herrings, and 2. It’s unrealistic the guests wouldn’t have heard about the serial killer. And THEN, not 30 pages later, something else from the past brings forth a new potential culprit. And THEN AGAIN, not long after, a dramatic, violent event from the past providing yet another potential motive/suspect. I found all these red herrings and misdirection completely unconvincing.
Could it be:
1. The shady station guard?
2. Evil poachers?
3. A disgruntled local?
4. The creepy Icelandic couple?
5. The Highland Ripper
6. This person from the past
7. That person from the past
8. Plenty more that aren’t worth mentioning...
Look, it’s all well and good to have a large suspect pool... but NOT when it’s inherently obvious who the real culprit is, because let's be honest: this book is woefully predictable. Red herrings are fun, but the above list are just so obvious it’s dumb.
Truth be told, 220 pages into this nearly 400 page book, and I started hard-skimming. I wanted it to be over so badly, it was almost unbearable. Then, we get to the end, and it’s so terribly pedestrian. It wasn’t clever, or twisted, or surprising. The only interesting thing that happened was unrelated to the murder. That’s it. I think the author wanted to believe this was more clever than it actually was, but, sadly—and much to my resounding disappointment—it wasn’t.