A weekend away with friends can be a fraught affair at the best of times, personalities clash, and resentments that have been brewing for years boil over, particularly when a barrel of booze is added to the mix. That is the case in these two novels.
In The Cliff House by Christopher Brookmyre Jen heads to a remote island for her hen party, bringing with her two old friends, a former in-law, and a whole load of misgivings about getting hitched for a second time. The Long Weekend sees author Gilly Macmillan transport her hapless group of ‘friends’ to a farm high in the Northumbrian moors on a night when there is a storm brewing. Needless to say, the tension in the air has nothing to do with thunder being imminent.
Both parties are barely across the threshold before a hidden hand throws a spanner into the works. Macmillan uses the device of a mysterious package with a note to the effect that by the time they read it, the husband of one of the women will be dead. Brookmyre uses an incident of shocking and initially unexplained violence to set the machinery of suspense in motion.
Closed communities, permanent or temporary, where everyone either has a secret or a hidden agenda ready to be revealed by the introduction of a little light homicide, have long been a staple of crime fiction. In setting and atmosphere both these novels owe a considerable debt to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, a book that proves, were proof ever needed that her novels were often far darker and smarter than some critics are willing to recognise.
Writing in the thirties Dame Agatha’s story concerns a disparate group of individuals trapped on a remote island, each one with a secret sin for which they must atone. The sensibilities that informed Christie’s work might have dissipated, but both Macmillan and Brookmyre understand and play cleverly with the tensions between friends and those awkwardly connected by marriage, linking them to personal failings that have unavoidable costs.
If I had to pick between the two, I would choose The Long Weekend. Gilly Macmillan neatly wrong foots her readers on several occasions, something of which Christie would no doubt have approved. Both books are enjoyable examples of the craft of thriller writing, cleverly using atmosphere and the dark art of misdirection to deliver the goods.