THE CLIFF HOUSE by Chris Brookmyre (BOOK REVIEW)
“What happens on Calchan Geal, stays on Clachan Geal”
Chris Brookmyre was a journalist before becoming a full-time novelist with the publication of his award-winning debut Quite Ugly One Morning, which established him as one of Britain’s leading crime authors. His novels have sold more than two million copies in the UK alone, and Black Widow won both the McIlvanney Prize and the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award.
Chris Brookmyre’s 2022 island thriller, ‘The Cliff House,’ is written in quite an accessible way. I am not suggesting that this novel is written simplistically, but rather that it is written in a very familiar way, so one can connect with the narrative easily, although it concerns subject matters that I hope most people wouldn’t have had to endure (such as missing husbands, domestic violence and finding dead bodies in the kitchen). To say I think this book might have deserved a trigger warning for some of the content would be an understatement, Brookmyre writes in a familiar but blugeoningly unapologetic way, handling complex subjects and sensitive details skilfully, but occasionally the content could be at risk of upsetting some people.
Jen has rented a luxury getaway for her hen do, an entire island off the Scottish coast, a location that influencers scramble for invites to and celebrities pay thousands and thousands to host elaborate parties and weddings at the large lavish mansion that resides on the Island of Calchan Geal. Luckily for Jen, there was a cancelation. So, she booked the island for her big weekend, inviting her nearest and dearest to join her.
‘I want you to feel the one true essence of the Clachan Geal experience: Splendid Isolation’
Little did they know that within hours of arriving on the island and being greeted by the host and owner, Lauren, that they would find a dead body in the kitchen, and they would realise how very alone they really are.
‘The Reaper: All for one and one for all. Six downloads short.”
This thriller is focused on family, secrets, friendship, and survival (more types than one), Brookmyre successfully handles all areas of this novel by meticulously constructing the narrative from a variety of perspectives. Which includes Jen herself, her party guests as well as the islands owner. Bouncing from perspective to perspective is not as disorientating as it could be, and it actually makes it harder to guess who the ‘bad-guy’ character in this narrative is.
‘Not Everybody’s playing an angle’
One of the things I love about Brookmyre, is how he reminds you that he is a Scottish writer within his work. Occasionally, Brookmyre will use Scottish vernacular within his work, or mentions iron-bru, so you can never forget that this is a Scottish novel, written by a Scottish author, brilliant. As well as that, Brookmyre includes a plethora of contemporary (ish) references that help you position the narrative, as well as the characters themselves, and help to contextualise what he was trying to do in terms of setting and atmosphere. Such as relating Jen’s friend Michelle, or the famous singer Mica, to Adele, or talking about watching BBC’s 2009 series ‘Ashes to Ashes,’ (which was no where near as good as the series ‘Life on Mars’ which preceded it). Brookmyre uses references, and Scottish vernacular to position his novel as familiar and highlight that that characters could be anyone, and he does it well.
‘I haven’t been hiding the truth from your Beattie, I’ve been sparing you from it.’
I had not heard of Brookmyre until NetGalley recommended ‘The Cliff House,’ to me, but boy am I glad it did. A terrifying and triggering novel that I would recommend to anyone who loves adrenaline-fueled chaos and thrillers – but I would make sure people were suitably warned: ‘may contain references to dead bodies, violence and domestic violence.’ A cracking novel about a hen party I am glad I wasn’t invited to.