The Party House is a small town thriller set shortly after the unnamed-but-clearly-COVID pandemic. A few years ago, some rich folks broke quarantine and threw a big party at an estate in the fictional remote village of Blackrig in the Scottish Highlands. A new strain of the virus infected the local population shortly after that party and resulted in a number of deaths. In the present-day, the pandemic is no longer a problem, but Blackrig residents are still leery when the same party organizers return to party again at the same estate. Some locals decide to deface the property in protest, only to find the body of a young woman who’d disappeared around the same time as the first party.
The novel follows two main characters: the estate gameskeeper Greg, who was present at the first party and knew the victim more intimately than he’d ever admitted to the cops, and his current girlfriend Joanne, who, unbeknownst to Greg, accepts his invitation to Blackrig only because she wants to write about the village on her blog and escape her violent and abusive ex.
The Party House wasn’t bad. The setting was wonderfully depicted; I got a strong sense of the tight-knit village community and the atmosphere of the remote Scottish highlights. The mystery behind Ailsa’s murder was also set up well, with relevant clues doled out over the course of the novel. But the thriller itself just wasn’t very thrilling. The myriad of secrets Greg and Joanne kept from each other, which shaped a lot of the tension throughout the novel, just got annoying after a while, particularly on Joanne’s end. I can understand why Greg may want to keep his past with Ailsa a secret, especially from a new girlfriend, but Joanne writing about Blackrig seemed like such an innocuous tidbit, I don’t get why it took so long for her to reveal it. I can also kinda understand why she may not want to talk about her ex with her current boyfriend, but that secrecy just created so much tension that again, the secrecy felt unnecessary. There was one big secret she kept from Greg that I did understand, but the circumstances behind that reveal came so quickly that it barely seemed worth the build-up.
A key element of the story is the depth of Greg and Joanne’s feelings for each other. It’s what drives them to finally open up; it’s what drives another character to do something that set off the entire climax and denouement of the story; and most of all, it’s why the stakes around their secrets are so high in the first place. But while the author takes pains to show us how much the characters love having sex with each other, the emotional arc of their relationship didn’t really have enough of a build-up for me to buy into their connection. I feel like I knew they were growing to love each other only because they said so in their narration or to other characters, but the spark itself fell pretty flat on the page.
The author has penned a bestselling crime series starring forensic scientist Dr Rhona MacLeod. The writing in The Party House is strong enough and the village personalities compelling enough that I may give one of her series mysteries a try. But overall, this book fell flat for me.
Thank you to Publishers Group Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.