The Guest List by Lucy Foley

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The Guest List by Lucy Foley is a fast-paced mystery during a wedding on a secluded island. Guests from various geographical and social backgrounds travel to celebrate the union of Jules and Will, this year’s golden couple.

the story unfolds through the characters’ perspectives, and we hear the first-person accounts from the bride, Jules; her bridesmaid, Olivia; the best man, Johnno; the plus-one, Hannah; and the wedding planner, Aoife. Each character and many of the minor characters have a backstory that twists and weaves through the complex relationships of siblings, spouses and friends. The Guest List delivers a page-turning mystery without gore or overly intense dysfunction. The characters aren’t without their dark sides, but Foley reveals them as believable and relatable. Any of them might have been a fellow guest at the last wedding you attended.

The happy couple selected the remote and allegedly haunted Irish island of Inis An Amplóra, Cormorant Island in English, for their tabloid-worthy union. The bride, a self-made digital magazine entrepreneur, planned every detail herself, from the carefully orchestrated transportation from the mainland to the precise seating chart. Jules’s obsession with appearance fueled her desire for perfection of her wedding to an illustrious reality TV star.

Despite her meticulous planning and obsessive attempts to control every variable, Jules finds herself powerless over the weather. On the wedding day, a massive storm descends on the ghostly island, creating pandemonium for the wedding party and guests, as well as the perfect opportunity for an unnoticed crime.

Though the groom is now a celebrity, his mates from boarding school still treat him like a frat brother. The men, including his best man, Johnno, behave jovially as they reminisce about the good old days at Trevellyan’s. They seem like a fun-loving bunch, but tones and remarks clearly intimate that something from their past still haunts some while remaining a laughing matter to others.
In his TV show, Survive the Night, Will is dropped in the middle of nowhere with nothing but a knife and his wits to get him to a rendezvous point the next day. The show’s popularity rests partially on his outdoor skills but additionally on his striking good looks and proclivity to be filmed without a shirt on. Many guests are enthralled with the famous groom, but none more than the stay-at-home mom, Hannah.

Hannah isn’t the typical attendee at a wedding of this caliber. She attends as a plus-one, and she vacillates between enthrallment at the glamor and fame and feeling embarrassed of her humble means and life. Her husband, Charlie, is the long-time best friend of Jules, and Hannah can’t help but wonder why and how the friendship between the bride and her husband has perpetuated. She knows there’s more to their past, but she has always been too scared to ask.

Hannah feels out of place and connects only with Olivia, the half-sister of Jules. She was assigned the role of bridesmaid more out of obligation than desire. Jules doesn’t have many female friends, so Olivia gets the role by default, despite both women wishing for different circumstances. Olivia is still recovering from a difficult breakup, and Jules, ever concerned with appearances, has little patience for Olivia to behave in any way other than exactly how Jules tells her. Unfortunately for Jules, Olivia is just one of many guests who refuses to act as expected for such a significant event.
The entire event is coordinated and held together by Aoife, a traditional Irish name pronounced ee-fuh. She and her husband, Freddie, own the reception site and are the only permanent residents of Inis An Amplóra. Aoife acknowledges that the mark of a talented and successful wedding planner is not being noticed. She quietly serves, coordinates and observes, tracking the guests’ moves and behaviors.

The Guest List sets itself apart from other locked-room mysteries because the reader isn’t privy to the crime until the climax of the book. Foley gives the reader only snippets from the incident, which takes place through the worst of the storm during the wedding reception. Other than knowing there’s a blood curdling scream, the reader is kept in the dark about what has been done and to whom. As the time before the wedding unfolds through the various narratives, you are left guessing the identities of both perpetrator and victim.

Though the novel rotates both narrators and timeline, the story enraptures you from the first few pages and is easily followed. Foley masterfully crafts characters that you simultaneously relate to and suspect. All of the characters have a motive. Just as you think you’ve figured it out, another layer is revealed and the story dives in a different direction. The Guest List will keep you guessing until the end and loath to put down the book until you get there.