Ah, old friends. The sort with whom you can slip back into your old roles, share in-jokes, drink an irresponsible amount of alcohol and imagine yourself eighteen again. There’s something about those longstanding ties of friendship that keeps the characters at the heart of The Hunting Party reconnecting once a year, on New Year’s Eve, to recreate the bond they once had as young adults.
The group were at Oxford together and are now in their early thirties. There’s the attractive, intimidating, queen bee Miranda, married to the equally attractive hedge fund manager Julien. Samira, who was once the life and soul of the party, married to Giles – new parents who have brought their baby along. Nick, close friends with Katie, and Bo, an American recovering drug addict. Mark, one of the ‘lads’ with an aggressive streak, and keen-to-please Emma, his girlfriend – and the only one who isn’t part of the original clique. And then there’s Katie, an ambitious but introverted lawyer in the city, and Miranda’s best friend. If some of these sound like caricatures, I suppose it’s because they are – there isn’t enough time in this pacy read to render all of these characters three-dimensional, and some are very much secondary and deployed as plot devices than having any narrative autonomy in their own right.
Emma is newest to the group, having met Mark after university. Desperate to ingratiate herself with the inner circle, and particularly with Miranda, she books a retreat in the Scottish wilderness. It’s a hostile environment at the best of times; at this time of year, it’s ‘the sort of weather that people die in,’ one character remarks. It’s bleak and beautiful and desolate. It’s also almost impossible to reach in a snowstorm. What could possibly go wrong?
But group aren’t entirely alone up there. Also up at the house are Doug, an ex-serviceman, and Heather, both running away from tragedy. And it’s refreshing to hear a perspective from voices outside of the privileged, Oxbridge-educated, upper-middle class Londoners with their first-world problems (that can get a little grating.) It’s clear that those who choose to holiday in the house really have no idea what they’re potentially letting themselves in for.
‘These are people who live charmed existences. Life has helped them to feel untouchable. They’re so used to having that invisible safety net around them in their normal lives—connectivity, rapid emergency services, health and safety guidelines—that they assume they carry it around with them everywhere. They sign the waiver happily, because they don’t really think about it. They don’t believe in it. They do not expect the worst to happen to them. If they really stopped to consider it, to understand it, they probably wouldn’t stay here at all.’
And, of course, one of them soon ends up dead – and the culprit has to be another within the group. ‘The inner circle has imploded from within,’ Katie remarks, and the carefully-constructed façade will soon come crashing down.
There are – as the blurb will tell you – definite echoes of Agatha Christie and Ruth Ware, particularly with the clever rendering of expansive landscape and claustrophobic atmosphere. Although the large cast of characters was initially overwhelming, I felt that those we heard from in alternating points of view throughout had distinct enough voices so as not to hamper the pace or trajectory. This is the kind of compelling and compulsive psychological thriller I most enjoy – where the monsters come not from outside, but from within – from the people you love and trust the most.