Goodreads summary of The Engagement Party by Darby Kane (review below):
And Then There Were None meets I Know What You Did Last Summer in #1 international bestseller Darby Kane’s latest gripping and twisty thriller set on a private island in Maine where secrets piled upon secrets and lies upon lies are all revealed in one fateful weekend.
Emily Hunt went missing from her affluent liberal arts school on graduation weekend. Her body was found floating in a river, and a quiet loner who most people on campus really didn’t know committed suicide. A tenuous link—one text—bound the two dead students together and was enough for law enforcement to close the case. But they got it wrong, and now someone is determined to set it right.
Twelve years later, college friends gather to celebrate an engagement over a long overdue getaway on a swanky private island in Maine—with only one way in and one way out. Sierra Prescott, invited as a guest and unconnected to past events, is the only person who soon senses not all is what it seems.
The tension in the air is ignited when they find a dead man in the trunk of a car with a note: time to tell the truth. And things only get worse. As a torrential storm strands them together, the group’s buried stories begin to surface, and secrets are bartered. To survive this deadly party, they’ll need to stop a killer before they become prey.
Reason 1- Social Issues
Let me do this again. Here is a standing ovation to all female thriller authors who, with precise intent, layer social issues (often women’s issues that people don’t speak of or whisper about in corners) to light. They do it without losing the thriller part of the story, without it becoming women’s literary fiction. It astounds and humbles me. The Engagement Party is no exception. Darby Kane explores multiple social issues during The Engagement Party. They include how women victims are often blamed/shamed by the media and society until they are found dead when they are then transformed into some angelic person. Often, neither extreme is true. Secondly, Darby Kane doesn’t allow the victim to be lost to the crime. In other words, while the long-game revenge is central to the mystery, we get to know the victim along the way.
In a span of a few hours, Emily morphed from a young woman with promise to a cautionary tale…Did you see her dress the other night? She seemed so out of control at the party. I tried to warn her, but she wouldn’t listen. The whispers carried more than a hint of reprimand.
Her role shifted again, this time from the cause of her own demise to beloved victim, forever enshrined as young and beautiful. Her personality locked in place, waiting for the passage of time to polish and mute every flaw into oblivion.
To all female authors that compassionately embed women’s issues into thrillers, including Darby Kane.
Reason 2- Book Structure
Book structure is not something I usually separate into its own piece. However, with The Engagement Party, it is a must for multiple reasons. First, it is told from various points of view, which are never muddled or confused. However, within these POVs, you have “Book Notes” chapters. The brilliance of these chapters is twofold.
At once, these chapters don’t ever reveal their intent or connection. Additionally, it swaps up from sometimes being specifically about Emily to sometimes about what happened to Emily and then seemingly sounding from Emily herself. This accomplishes a multitude of feats. It provides an additional sense of the unfolding mystery, peeling back layer by layer like an onion.
Next, the end of each chapter is a mini cliffhanger. Books with multiple POVs that employ this tactic are marvelous! Here is one that isn’t a spoiler because you have no context for the what, who, where, or when, but it will grab your full attention all the same. 😉
The red flashed in her brain until she gagged. ‘It’s not my blood.’
End of chapter. And then you jump to another point of view. It leaves you craving to find out what the hell just happened. Although a completely different genre/category, the Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo is also a masterclass in doing this.
Lastly, I’d like to point out that Darby Kane makes the readers omniscient. Each character has a different piece of the puzzle that the others aren’t aware of. However, we are aware of all the pieces. And that makes the mystery even more suspenseful because you want to scream at the other characters about what the hell is going on. But you can’t, and it is nail-biting.
Reason 3- Characters
If you need a likable character? The closest you’ll get is Sierra. But I love me some well-executed, morally gray, or hell, morally black characters. And The Engagement Party is chock full of them. Everyone comes with their own secrets that are a direct or indirect piece of the puzzle. Despite this inseparable group of friends being airtight over a decade ago, there are still pieces of this mystery that some know that their other friends don’t. So, both the immediate little mysteries and the overall mysteries include shifting parts (body and otherwise).
Each character has a very unique voice and personality. Not only is their personality depicted in detail, but so is their appearance. Not so much that it is annoying. It is enough to get an ultra-HD movie in your mind. I could hear each of their voices and see who they were in my head, not just in appearance but mannerisms.
Thank you to William Morrow Books for an ARC of The Engagement Party by Darby Kane, which releases on December 5th.
This plays into the above. If you can’t tell, The Engagement Party drops you on the rollercoaster, which never ends. You are constantly on your toes, wondering what will befall the guests next and what will solve the ultimate mystery. I didn’t skim a word, let alone a page. I never had that, get on with it already, vibe. It just flew by.
Special note about the pacing and engagement factor:
Being bipolar and having severe ADD, I usually wait until the publisher (hopefully) provides an audio arc. Harper Collins is amazingly kind about doing so. However, I wasn’t that patient with Darby Kane’s latest. Especially since I wasn’t familiar with the narrator for the audiobook (if I love the narrator, I might hold on, lol), I don’t dislike the narrator for The Engagement Party; I don’t know of them. I say this because I want to note that when I said I read The Engagement Party in FIVE HOURS (one sitting)? I mean, I READ it in FIVE HOURS. Not listened to it (although that is reading, just making a point), but READ it in five hours. And that says a lot.
Reason 5- Writing
Darby Kane writes the hell out of the Engagement Party. I’m repeating a lot of what I already said, but a couple of additional notes must be made. The dark humor is on point and not overdone in the Engagement Party. As mentioned above, the characters are exceptionally well executed. Also, the current ongoings on the island, along with the center mystery, include multiple moving parts. They all work together splendidly to keep you and the characters guessing until the very end.
Lastly, An Additional writing note:
My opinion is that someone needs to tell Lucy Foley to read the Engagement Party because it blows the Guest List right out of the water. Okay, anyone who has read my review of the Guest List (linked) knows a telephone book would be a better read. However, locked rooms/islands, etc., books are a trend, and trends get stale. The Engagement Party breathes life into the entirety of this trend.