It's the new year. Sad, lonely Emma--who introduces the story--is together for the first time in ages with Mark, Miranda, Katie, Julien, Nick and Bo, Samira and Giles. They're about to spend four days together in a winter Highland wilderness at Loch Corrin, an exclusive, uber-modern glass holiday retreat. Emma, who had planned the trip, feels a certain sense of ownership. This getaway is a big deal; they do it every year. She's anxious that people won't enjoy themselves, that things might go wrong in this place of wild beauty, where the water is slate grey and violent-looking.
Miranda is the most provocative, sometimes coming across like "a bitchy prom queen"; Katie is the quiet one. Though they have always been tight-knit, lately their friendship has been strained. Julien is brashly good-looking, confident to the point of arrogance. Miranda sometimes comes across as "a bitchy Prom Queen" with a dark secret. All are at once preoccupied by this new understanding of this wild, isolated place where they're going to spend the next few days.
From this initial setup, Foley expands her rather low-key thriller into a story that both disturbs and compels. The novel has a strong dose of chills: the mystery surrounding Katie and Miranda's friendship; the state of Katie's sad heart; Heather, Corrin's secretary who discovers a dead body; and wild, dark-haired Doug, the angry gamekeeper who speaks of a life lived outdoors. With everything snow-clogged and one of the guests missing, the discovery of the body is confirmation of something much worse.
From the outset, Doug is the prime suspect. He resents these spoiled moneyed guests who expect the luxury of the hotels they're used to staying in. He makes no effort to conceal his dislike of them, particularly Julian: "typical of the people that stay there." Katie worries they're pretty much completely alone save for the gamekeeper and Heather who had originally welcomed them. Katie also confesses that she was a bit in love with Nick at Oxford, "he was beautiful but in a new grown-up way."
Foley emphasizes the camaraderie and togetherness in an atmosphere with a dangerous edge. It's as though that time out there in all the wilderness has put them all on their guard. Katie tells us that "the dark thing" between them has the "frightened quality of a guilty secret." Beyond the modernist home, there's no barrier between the group and the landscape, the loch huge and silver in the evening light. A thinly veiled element of mystery is layered into the book, but don't expect a breakneck thriller. Instead, Foley writes a brooding character piece that brims with a mounting edge of psychological suspense. The book is on the long side; it takes its time in laying all of its cards out on the table.
Beyond the snowstorms and the sudden fog that produces a rapid drop in temperature (it's what makes this landscape so exciting), a couple of Icelandic guests hold a secret that may be connected to rumors of the Highland Ripper and the faces of his six victims, "all youngish and pretty." Heather knows that if Doug is right, there's something more sinister at play. She's convinced there's something wrong between the guests. Katie's memories of Emma begin to shift once again into a shiver of disquiet as she searches for the truth of what really happened that fateful, terrible night.
Foley transports us into this relentlessly snowy, shadowy landscape of nightmares and strange happenings, a dark mesh of betrayal, secrets and deceit. While the book delivers the prerequisite literary suspense, it's not the kind of novel that stays on your mind for long. That said, I'm certainly looking forward to what Foley comes up with next.