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The Cliff House: One hen weekend, seven secrets… but only one worth killing for

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Jen is soon to be married to the handsome Zaki. He seems like the perfect husband-to-be but Jen has been bitten before and still doesn’t completely trust him. In fact, as this story unfolds, we realise that Jen doesn’t actually trust anyone. What happened in her past has been affecting her life ever since. My first book by this author. It’s a dark twisted thriller set on an isolated Scottish island. A hen party who has made their way here find their weekend of luxury destroyed when a murder is committed. There’s supposedly no one else on the island, so who is responsible. When an anonymous call comes through for one of the party to confess a sin, they all begin to look at each other, and themselves, to try to work out who should be confessing.

I had a suspicion of which of the ladies was involved from pretty early on, but the ending did offer something more. Some of the group helicopter into Clachan Geal, while Jen’s oldest friend, Michelle, comes over by powerboat. She’s a big-name pop star these days and has been in ‘retreat’ on a nearby island and she and another woman in the party have history. This is a disparate group; some are friends of Jen’s because they play tennis together, while Beattie is the sister of Jen’s late first husband. And then there is Samira, who nobody knows. She’s Zaki’s sister, a new mum in need of a break, and she was foisted upon Jen by her fiancé. It’s like a toy box and you are going to let them root through it and you are not going to have some new character arrive three quarters of the way in.” That evening they’re all letting loose with a few drinks as they wait for dinner. Before they know it, however, small things start to trigger the group and a disagreement breaks out. That’s not surprising, of course, given the fact that Jen’s venomous ex sister-in-law and her gossipy future sister-in-law are in attendance. Adding to the fray are her two best friends from childhood—one of whom is a pop star sensation while the other is her publicly ditched ex-bandmate. Throw in their tennis coach and the group fashionista and fireworks were always sure to be on the horizon.And then there are people we might have some family connection with but who we don’t particularly get on with. I wanted to write about what friendship really means to people in different ways and how that works out over the course of years. But, crucially, I wanted to write about who we can trust. The person who might be closest on the surface is maybe the person who knows all our vulnerabilities.

In theory a hen party should be the chance for the bride to celebrate with all the people she loves around her, but the reality can be different. “Once I put them all in a room together I began to get to know how they would behave. I still enjoyed it, but I have read better executions of a similar story, like Guest List, for example. The Cliff House takes places on a remote Scottish island on a hen weekend and it’s really about the fact that we have different levels of friendship,” he explains.

Cosy Conversations on the Coast

We have been to St Andrews a lot but the Elie is one of these wee areas of Fife that you tend to bypass. Cosy Conversations on the Coast P.S. can add its voice to the praise, rating the writer’s latest offering, The Cliff House, among his best yet. The book is his 27th in 25 years as a novelist and comes in addition to the Ambrose Parry series written with his doctor-turned-author wife, Marisa Haetzman. For a change there are no characters popping up from previous books, even in the smallest cameo appearance, but there are some similarities to earlier books. The premise of a hen party on a remote Scottish island is a bit like the oil rig scenario in One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night, right don to having one of the characters being an old friend who is now a celebrity. Like that book and 'Tale Etched in Blood' there is a large number of characters that it takes a while to get your head round, and like many of CB's books there are strong female characters. From the top, the plot was where this story soared. Starting off as a slow burn as the women arrived and their relationships were established, things really got underway about a quarter of the way into the book. From there on out, the revolving door of multiple POVs kept me just as bamboozled as the characters themselves. And while each of their individual thoughts could have been confusing, they were anything but. In fact, the way it was written actually felt much more like a single POV storyline, but allowed for a near omniscient perspective. And for this plot to be a hit, that was a definite must.

My only real complaint is that, as with other Brookmyre books, I feel a bit cheated on the value for money front because I end up whipping through it so fast in eagerness to find out what happens next - but then I do usually end up reading his books again, which makes up for it.

Advance Praise

The party of women consists of Samira, whom Jen has never met before, Zaki's lawyer sister, whom he asked to be included because as a mother of two young children that are a handful, she desperately needs a break from the chaos and mayhem of daily life. To Jen's surprise and delight, her longstanding friend from childhood, 42 year old celebrity singer Michelle, famous as Mica, is able to attend. Helena is another childhood friend, a music teacher, her children have left the nest and her husband, Neil, has left for another woman. She used to be part of the group, Cassidy, until Michelle dropped her to pursue a more financially lucrative career as a solo artist, something she has never forgiven her for, a hurt exacerbated by the fact the two used to be the best friends. Beattie is Jen's suspicious and embittered former sister-in-law, still grieving the loss of her brother, Jason, who disappeared in incriminating circumstances. Nicolette is a fashion expert, and Kennedy is a injured tennis coach, Jen has known for 7 months and feels close to. He was also delighted to have the opportunity to explore a part of Scotland that he doesn’t know well, even if the weather wasn’t terribly welcoming: I’m sorry to be so critical. The prose is good and others who enjoy this genre may well like the book, but for me it was just a string of stale, implausible characters and situations. I hope that Brookmyre will hive us another Parlabane book, but it seems that his other fiction is really not for me. I do read a lot of crime fiction,” he says, “a lot of it written by my friends because you do end up becoming friends with writers.

This is a special novel. A brilliant, original, up-to-the-minute tale with all of the dark, edgy, humorous brilliance we’ve come to expect from one of the finest crime fiction writers in the world’ I have enjoyed a number of Chris Brookmyre's books so enthusiastically, applied for a review copy of The Cliff House (2022). The trope of a group of wealthy people with secrets stranded on a remote island has become very popular recently. Rather than bumping guests off one at a time, however, this focuses on the friendships, old and new, between the women - not all of whom know each other. There are past grievances and new suspicions, with each guilt-ridden hen desperate to keep her own secret - but at what cost? Brookmyre skilfully turns the spotlight onto each one, and I defy anyone to unravel the mystery before the final reveal.

You are often inspired by locations – sometimes it is imagining what might take place in that location or sometimes it is something about the atmosphere that suggests something. You might have known someone for ten years and you don’t really know anything intimate about them and equally there are people you have known your own life can be more of a threat to you because they know all your secrets. Thinking about The Cliff House in particular, he says: “It’s very much about, if you put a whole lot of people on a small island and they realise somebody dangerous is on the loose and you’ve got this contained environment, the reader can be sure that all the components are already there.

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