Source: Review copy
Publication: 4 August 2022 from Pan Macmillan
My thanks to Philippa McEwan and Pan Macmillan for an early copy for review
Devastated by a recent pandemic brought in by outsiders, the villagers of Blackrig in the Scottish Highlands are outraged when they find that the nearby estate plans to reopen its luxury ‘party house’ to tourists.
As animosity sparks amongst the locals, part of the property is damaged and, in the ensuing chaos, the body of a young girl is found in the wreck. Seventeen-year-old Ailsa Cummings went missing five years ago, never to be seen again – until now.
The excavation of Ailsa’s remains ignites old suspicions cast on the men of this small community, including Greg, the estate’s gamekeeper. At the beginning of a burgeoning relationship with a new lover, Joanne, Greg is loath to discuss old wounds. Frightened by Greg’s reaction to the missing girl’s discovery, Joanne begins to doubt how well she knows this new man in her life. Then again, he’s not the only one with secrets in their volatile relationship . . .
I’m a huge fan of Lin Anderson’s series featuring forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to read her first stand-alone novel, The Party House.
This is a super involving read and I was glued to this book for the best part of two days. Ghillie of the Greg Taylor is in London to promote the re-opening of the Blackrig Estate now owned by Global Investments Holdings. He’s there with very mixed feelings. He wants to keep his job in one of the most beautiful parts of the Highlands where wildlife flourishes and the landscape is fantastic. But, at the same time, re-opening the estate means bringing sore wounds, which have not had time to heal, right up to the surface where they may lie open and festering.
For Blackrig is home to The Party House, a big modern house equipped with every luxury and used by Global Investments for tourists and shooting parties as the main source of income for the estate. It was different when the old Laird, Main owned the estate. Then he had wanted to focus on developing the woodlands as a site of natural beauty. But then he died and the estate was sold on.
Now the villagers have come to hate Ard Choille, or the Party House as it is known to all. Because during lockdown a party of tourists came to the Party House bringing with them a deadly virus and soon after CoVid raged through the village, killing 5 children and the District Nurse.
Now resentment simmers, barely under the surface, and the locals are very clear that it is far too soon to re-open the Party House but the deeply arrogant and repugnant Aidan Stratton who looks after the Party House is adamant that this activity must resume now that lockdown restrictions are over.
So Greg is reluctantly in London attending a Game Fair to help attract new custom and that’s where he meets journalist and blogger Joanne Addington. The pair hit it off and soon Joanne is turning up at Blackrig to take up Colin’s offer to stay at Beanach, his cottage home.
Both Joanne and Greg are keeping secrets from each other; secrets that threaten to destroy an emerging relationship. They’re not the only ones. This is a village with many secrets and it is holding them all close.
When a body is found under the recently vandalised hot tub of The Party House, there’s no doubt in Greg’s mind that it is Ailsa Cummings, a 17 year old young woman who disappeared from Blackrig village some 5 years earlier.
A police investigation led by DI Snyder leads police to a number of suspects and harks back to a time when the Party House was in full on excess mode. As a number of villagers come under scrutiny, things are looking black for Greg and for his relationship with Joanne
Lin Anderson creates a fantastic picture of life in a beautiful area of Scotland with a close knit village community where everyone knows the business of their neighbours and doors are seldom locked. The scenery is vivid and gorgeous and the village itself has that vivid sense of marrying tradition with contemporary values and the clash of cultures that can bring.
The sense of anger over Covid rule breaking feels very real and raw as does the Global corporation’s hold over local employment and the resulting resentment that brings. Lin Anderson reveals and exploits these divisions in a novel that is suspenseful, twisty and compelling.
Verdict: The Party House has tension, pace and interesting characters. It is a psychological thriller with many secrets simmering in a fabulously idyllic Highland setting. Though it’s not too much hard work to work out who the murderer is, there is more than one villain here on which to focus one’s thoughts as neighbour starts to turn on neighbour in this suspenseful thriller. A most enjoyable read.
Lin Anderson is a Scottish author and screenwriter known for her bestselling crime series featuring forensic scientist Dr Rhona MacLeod. Four of her novels have been longlisted for the Scottish Crime Book of the Year, with Follow the Dead being a 2018 finalist. Her short film River Child won both a Scottish BAFTA for Best Fiction and the Celtic Film Festival’s Best Drama award and has now been viewed more than one million times on YouTube. Lin is also the co-founder of the international crime writing festival Bloody Scotland, which takes place annually in Stirling.