Today I am delighted to share my thoughts on The Cliff House, the latest novel from Chris Brookmyre and to wish the author a happy publication day. My thanks to publisher Litte, Brown for the advance copy. Here’s what the book’s about:
About the Book
One hen weekend, seven secrets… but only one worth killing for
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.
Well this is quite the tense, pulse-racing thriller. I came to reading Chris Brookmyre’s work very, very late, but I’m glad I finally joined the party. I’m also quite glad I didn’t join this party – the hen weekend from hell as it should probably be subtitled. Heading off to a remote Scottish hideaway, an exclusive property on an island only accessible by helicopter or boat, probably seemed like a great idea at the time, but for Jen is it anything but the relaxing weekend of celebration she might have hoped for. Her best and oldest friends are practically at loggerheads, she is meeting her future sister in law for the very first time, one of her guests is injured, and Jen herself is starting to have a few doubts about her husband to be, Zaki. This is not her first time down the aisle and it seems her experience with hubby number one really has clouded her feelings about her impending nuptials. Oh … and the small matter of someone on the island seemingly wanting to kill one or all of them. No biggy …
This is kind of your locked room mystery with a twist. There is, in theory, a very finite number of suspects when it comes to the whodunnit aspect of the book, but then again, just because the women can’t get off the island, doesn’t mean someone else can’t get on. It is that tantalising aspect as well as a few clues scattered amongst the early pages of the book that really kept me on edge and hooked to the story. When asked to confess to their little secret, it is not immediately clear who the keeper of the secret might be or what exactly it is that they are meant to confess to. And over the course of the book we learn that none of the women in this book are exactly squeaky clean and the confessions, whilst not exactly coming thick and fast, are certainly quite the revelation. Secrets, lies and potential matricide, all make practically every resident in this suddenly not quite so luxurious getaway an unreliable narrator of sorts. I never quite knew where, if anywhere, to put my trust and it kept the excitement flowing through each and every page.
There is a real sense of threat that feeds through this book, and from the very beginning there is somewhat of an ominous atmosphere and tension that you can feel building, even as they women first meet up for their pre-transfer drinks. This is one of the things that the author really excels in – creating that kind of vibe that intrigues and grabs your attention straight away. Those small touches such as songs that spark a memory in an individual character, reopening old wounds that have never quite healed. The contrasts of the sheer luxury of the resort against the wild nature of the landscape around it. Even just the remote setting, that sense of complete isolation that comes from being on an otherwise uninhabited island totally cut off from everyone and everything else. Or so they thought …
Chris Brookmyre is also truly adept at creating diverse and believable characters who get under your skin. I can’t necessarily say I especially liked any of them, but I became very invested in them in spite of their (many) character flaws. You have Jen, entrepreneur and the ‘bunting’ that holds this strange party together, music icon Michelle, of Mica, and music teacher, Helena, both childhood friends of Jen’s and between whom there exists such a tension that you can practically feel it explode off the page. Then, to complicate matters you have not only Jen’s future sister-in-law, Samira and former sister-in-law, Beattie. Safe to say that the latter is not a relationship made of love and close friendship. Rounding out the group are tennis coach, Kennedy, fashion marketing expert, Nicollette and their host for the weekend, Lauren. Each one of them is multifaceted, flawed and ultimately vulnerable in their own way, but together they made up a formidable and determined team.
This is ultimately a story of revenge, but the who and the whys of it may come as a surprise. One part of it I did second guess, but the more we learn of the women it’s perhaps not meant to come as that much of a surprise. But there are plenty of shocks and twists in store, and moments of high action, where the peril the women are exposed to is magnified tenfold, and those are the moments that really get the pulse rate spiking and the pages turning at speed. I liked watching the faltering friendships, the quieter scenes in which each confession is slowly revealed and where it’s impact really strikes the right note, getting the mind whirring as to whether that could be the one that tips the balance.
A really tense, finely plotted psychological thriller where everyone is hiding something and in which you’ll probably end up wondering if you can even trust yourself anymore. Definitely recommended.
About the Author
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 writers. His 2016 novel Black Widow won both the McIlvanney Prize and the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award. Brookmyre’s novels have sold more than two million copies in the UK alone.