BOOK covers sometimes go overboard in trying to entice readers to buy.
The Dinner Guest by BP Walter is an excellent example. It should carry a “spoiler alert“ sticker.
Before opening a single page we are told “four people walked into the dining room that night, one would never leave”.
Synopsis complete. Not much more to say. End of story, almost.
For those needing more enticement, it does reveal that the dinner of the title “ends in death” and there was “a stranger at the table”.
Although this is being somewhat lax with the truth as all four diners are quite well acquainted with each other well before blood is spilt.
They are listed as Matthew “the perfect husband”, Titus “the perfect son”, Charlie “the perfect illusion” and Rachel “the perfect stranger”. More descriptions designed to mislead even before the mystery unfolds.
By the end of the brief prologue there is no mystery about which “one would never leave” (other than in a body bag), how the deed was done and who has willingly ‘fessed up to the police.
After a mere four pages packed with more red herrings than found in John West’s canning factory, the mystery is revealed: why confess when they are not the guilty one?
It takes almost 400 more somewhat tedious pages (this is the paperback edition) to provide the answer.
Or does it? An epilogue, as patently contrived as is so much that precedes it, pulls out more loose threads and lets them dangle. An author who appears not to know when to stop, when enough is enough.
The plotting is intricate, a clever juggling act. The structure follows a timeline that switches back and forth from several months before the murder, to the actual day and to soon after, and briefly as far as three years ahead.
The narration likewise goes hither and thither with each character relating events from their partial point of view.
Unfortunately they lack any drawing power; dull, tedious and rather boring inhabitants of a world of privilege and money. One dimensional beings from central casting going through the motions against a background of name dropping (luxury brands, exclusive restaurants, country estates and second homes in the upper heights of Kensington, Mayfair and Pimlico).
Incidents of coke sniffing, same-sex unions, underage sex and domestic abuse are tacked on as sidebars; an obvious bid to inject an edginess. But none of it comes across with any sense of reality. No impact. Mostly due to rather dull monotone writing that lacks sparkle, zip, suspense.
Others have described the story as “immensely gripping” and “nerve-shredding”. So be it; each to their own. One person’s fish etc etc ….
But for this dinner guest an excess of red herrings.