Storm by Stephanie Merritt: Superbly written, fast-paced, and utterly gripping – book review –

It was supposed to be an early autumn weekend house party at a fabulous, luxury French chateau for a group of long-standing, tight-knit university friends and their partners...

By Pam Norfolk
Wednesday, 15th June 2022, 12:30 pm
Storm by Stephanie Merritt
Storm by Stephanie Merritt

But when a startling young stranger turns up, claiming to be the new girlfriend of a guest yet to arrive, old and dangerous tensions start to rear their ugly head. And there’s someone at the party who has only one thing on their mind… murder.

If you have a penchant for stories featuring the lives, loves and dark desires of those who count themselves as seriously rich, then Stephanie Merritt’s chilling and thrilling new mystery has all the perfect ingredients.

Merritt – who writes exciting historical Tudor thrillers under the pen name S.J. Parris – is on her best form for this addictive and psychologically powerful tale which comes packed with surprises and superbly drawn characters, and bristles with menace, uncertainty and spine-tingling suspense.

Thirty-seven-year-old Jo Lawless is still grieving two years on from the death of her husband when his oldest friends invite her to a weekend house party at fabulous Chateau Henri in France. The luxury holiday home belongs to mega-rich couple, Arlo Connaught, a brilliant AI expert, and his wife Cressida who are celebrating their 21st wedding anniversary.

Also at the getaway weekend are showbusiness pair Leo Garrett and his wife Nina Gregorian, but politician Max Steadman, who is bringing his new girlfriend, hasn’t yet turned up because he has been delayed at work.

Jo, who works in education and was married to the fourth member of the university pals, human rights lawyer Oliver Lawless, has always felt like an outsider in the wealthy friendship group but she decides to go, hoping that their shared loss will bring them closer together.

But the weekend is disrupted on the first evening by the whirlwind arrival of an unexpected guest. The exotic-looking intruder is young Irish woman, Storm, who breezes into the luxury chateau, claiming to be absent Max’s girlfriend, and wearing clothing that leaves the men agape, and the women aghast.

Soon the free-spirited and outspoken Storm, who appears to know more than she should about the guests, is creating a storm… hostess Cressida can barely hide her loathing of the young woman and the atmosphere turns sour as old secrets and tensions surface.

Somebody is bent on revenge and the cold light of morning reveals a horrifying discovery… someone has been murdered and the killer isn’t finished. No one one at this party is safe.

Merritt has a fine time with this twisting and turning, mind-bending mystery as readers are immersed in the clandestine world of the former university friends, and discover the dark secrets which have bound them together so closely and so ferociously for over twenty years.

At the centre of the story is Jo, the grieving widow and group outsider whose marriage to Oliver held disturbing secrets, but the star of the show, and the haunting catalyst for a series of shocking revelations, is the intriguing, straight-talking but unsettling Storm.

As the tension mounts, the past unravels, and a sickening sense of unease and terrifying insecurity eats away at the mixed bag of entitled guests at beautiful Chateau Henri. It’s a scenario played out to perfection with the nail-biting action ratcheting up to breaking point before exploding into a terrifying climax.

Superbly written, fast-paced, and utterly gripping, this is a house party not to be missed!

(HarperCollins, hardback, £14.99)