The Chalet by Catherine Cooper
Publishers and Booksellers are very smart cookies, let it be said. Last year was the breakout year for Lucy Foley and very well deserved it was too. People love a great mystery, a set of ghastly characters gathered together and ultimately for someone to get their comeuppance, even if they are not necessarily the murderer. Lucy Foley took this one step further and threw in an added element of not revealing the victim until the end. And it was this formula, I believe led to the success of her novels. So it was that I stumbled upon 'The Chalet' by Catherine Cooper. The cover promised 'Four guests, one luxury getaway and one perfect murder' and depicted 5 champagne flutes, one broken with a hint of blood on it. I was intrigued!
In 1998, 2 brothers ski into a blizzard, one returns and one disappears never to be found. 20 years later a group of characters gather in a luxury ski resort each hiding a secret and one is waiting to commit a murder, when a body is discovered in the snow. What really happened that day in 1998 on the mountain. What is Ria hiding? and which brother died?
I read this in the period between Christmas and New Year and really enjoyed it. I preface this by saying what I always say when reviewing a crime novel namely that I NEVER guess the murderer.In this instance, I did manage to guess, which is a first. But this took nothing away from the story as I then began to question my choice as red herrings came into play so that by the end of the novel I had talked myself out of the decision. haha.
The characters are ghastly, there is no other word for them. Hugo and Simon are, at times, monstrous - boorish and the type of banker twits that unfortunately one encounters on holiday. Too loud, too braying, behaving badly and flashing the cash, concerned about the appearance of wealth and demanding the most overpriced items whatever the price. Ria is a fascinating study, a woman with a secret to hide, calculating and cool whilst married to Hugo. Cass is quite drippy, tearful and devoted to her son and ignoring of her husband Simon's indiscretions, sweet but dull. Their son's nanny Sarah also appears determined to better herself, letting slip her clients problems. And then there are the incidental characters; sweet chalet girl, Millie, Cameron the awful owner of the chalet with all the sensitivity of a rock, and towards the end we meet the brother who survived the accident in 1998.
The writing is cleverly done, alternating between 1998 and the present day. There is a theme of class running through the novel. The guests in 1998 are a mix of classes and it is keenly felt as one is struggling to finance the holiday in the face of lavish entitlement.
Catherine Cooper lives in France and this really shows in her knowledge and writing of the ski scene. I definitely felt the author knew her stuff! The lodge where the guests stay is pure luxury and the landscape is beautiful but with an underlying cruelty. We witness how nature can very suddenly turn deadly and we will never be its master.
And so, to my original point. Those publishers and booksellers really do know what we want to read. With the next Lucy Foley not due for a little while, Harpercollins have gifted us this gem of a read for those of us who can't wait. This has all the ingredients of a Lucy Foley and was a fun page-turner, perfect for the start of the year.