Celebrating Halloween on an isolated island with 12 other people – sounds like a great idea, right?
This review contains spoilers. Please do not read “my personal feelings” portion if you haven’t read the book. (or read at your own risk)
Rachel knows how to throw a Halloween party – Thirteen people, Check. An old castle on its own island, check. A killer menu and plenty of alcohol, check. Costumes, Check. Secrets she plans slowly reveal throughout the weekend, leading to the grand finale: a bomb she will drop at midnight, check, check check. Nothing could possibly go wrong, right?
The book through my criteria lens:
I’ll start with the positives; Castle’s ambiance and atmosphere were phenomenal. She really made the island and Castle come to life; her description was straightforward to visualize. The storm was terrific. I felt the claustrophobic and dooming mood that being isolated when a tragedy happens will indeed evoke.
The plot was enough to grab my attention – I love me an isolated setting and a locked room mystery. I will ALWAYS pick up a book that promises to deliver my favourite trope ever. The execution could have been better, though. We started off by not knowing who had died; we find out halfway through the book, though – at which point the book becomes a standard linear whodunnit. There is nothing wrong with that choice; it is just not my taste. I prefer either classic whodunnit or a “murder in retrospect” that waits until the last fifth of the book to start coming together.
Suppose you read any of my mystery reviews before. In that case, you know that my number one pet peeve is when an author throws curveballs and hides crucial information. Unfortunately, I don’t feel that Castle played very fair with some of her twists: A couple really came out of the left field, and though entertaining, this is, again, something I prefer not to see in books I enjoy. That being said, at least those choices were within character.
Talking about Characters… This is where my conflict lies. At first glance, the characters are stereotypical, one-dimensional, and caricatures of real people. At the same time, Castle managed to make each character their own person and remain consistent throughout the book, not an easy feature when you have 13 main characters! Were they absurd and unlikeable? Yeah. But if one reads them as satire, they were brilliant. Not to mention that I couldn’t stand any of them, except for the 2 oldest children; this might mean it was the author’s intention for the characters to be satirical. I hope.
My personal feelings:
**REMINDER THIS SECTION CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS**
I feel that more people will love this book than not – The Invitation has a witty tone, and it is delightfully British. Besides, what mystery lover doesn’t live for an isolated setting in a locked room mystery?
With that said, I need to vent about the things I didn’t like – and hopefully, getting this off my chest and hearing people’s thoughts will make my reread a better experience. As a disclaimer, I have purchased this book and honestly will keep it.
This book really made me glad to have criteria for rating, which I feel allows me to be fairer. If I had gone by feeling alone, I would have probably rated The Invitation 2 stars, but how just would it be to the author who got many things right in her book? Not fair at all. Writing is not easy, especially because regardless of how excellent a book is, there will always be people who hate it. Why? Because reading is such a personal experience. How you read a book, your expectations, your mood at the time of reading, your preferences, pet peeves, and triggers… They all influence your reading enjoyment. In my humble opinion, very rarely the book written is the same as the book read. And when that happens – when a reader GETS the text in the way the author intended, it’s magical, transcendental, and intimate.
Why am I beating this point to death? Because I really hate not liking a book and feel really guilty. I do hope that you don’t think I am being mean or criticizing A.M. Castle. This is not the case. The book can be entertaining. I just had issues with it for many reasons, all personal and not a testament to the author’s talent. The Invitation Castle written is good, even if The Invitation I read left me unsatisfied. Time to stop going on in circles and get to my vent and personal feelings, right?
From this point on, I can’t continue without spoiling major plot points, reveals, and twists. Last chance to walk away….
**click on arrow for spoilers**
- I still don’t know what the point of the costume was. Not for a second, it served to throw doubt a victim’s identity or make characters question if the right person was killed. The person who died was the one who made sure people were wearing the costume. Not to mention that if they were going for the shock value, they should have made sure EVERYONE wore them. Furthermore, why did the women even wore them? They had the choice not to! The whole robe/wig situation just left me feeling confused and underwhelmed. I still don’t know their point as they don’t even have anything to do with the bomb Rachel intended to drop. It was such a GREAT idea full of potential, but the execution was unsatisfying.
- I love certain tropes and thrills for the sake of entertainment. But navigating them can be a gamble, as you either knock your attempt out of the park, or you don’t. In The Invitation, Castle Nailed the isolated/locked room tropes; the way she created the situations was plausible and showed attention to details. From the curtains to the wiring, from the destroyed jetty to the staff quarters. * chef’s kiss*. I also loved how the author gave each character their own discernable voice, and their POVs were executed well. I felt that narration choice added to the story and worked.
- In my opinion, what missed the mark was some unnecessary side plots, which seemed to have been added as a conflict-creating plot device but were poorly executed. Examples are incest, the motive for the murder, Ruby’s disappearance, and the past to present parallels/secrets.
- I love nothing more than fair play. While the murderer’s motive was within character and hints were dropped to this account, the victim’s participation in it felt like an afterthought curveball. The reveal would have worked without it, even better, in my opinion. The whole Ruby’s disappearance came and went, but it was never satisfactorily explained. Then, are you really telling me that those women remained in touch, friends with that poor of communication and lack of trust for 20 years?!? Who keeps a secret for 20 freaking years and then one day decides it will be fun to reveal them? 20 years, people. Not 5 or 10. 20.
- I also had a personal issue with trigger topics such as infidelity, sexual assault, and abortion were treated so poorly. I get they added shock value to the plot and served as some great points of motive confusion, but they could have been handled infinitely better.
- The most mishandled topics in the whole book, in my opinion, have to do with the children—first, the incest. The parents’ reactions were appalling! What kind of parents think their child will get over having sex with a sibling “because they didn’t know”? Then, we basically see all the adults going on with their merry life after the revelation. I felt like I was stepping into the twilight zone. On that topic, the sexualization of Raf was also repulsive. Why the hell were grown-ass women, including his mother, going on and on about how sexy, amazing, perfect, attractive the boy is? Their obsession with him is pretty creepy.
- Next, can we take a second to talk about the fact that Rachel got a minor, A MINOR, to be a surrogate? What kind of doctor allowed that to happen? What type of lawyer drew a contract that didn’t require a parent’s signature. What type of adult thinks that is a good idea?!?!? What???? How??? Why???
- This brings me to my last issue, I promise – Rachel. I get unlikeable characters. I do. I even like what they add to a plot most times. But Rachel? She’s disgusting. She allowed the incest to happen; she used abortion and rape as bargaining chips. She used a minor as an incubator; she bullied her friends, emotionally tortured her stepdaughter, and treated people appallingly. I would never be out in public with her – she is rude to staff, snobbish, condescending, impossible, and quite honestly embarrassing. All of that makes for a great villain, right? YES! So what’s my problem? What I really don’t get is that she actually had friends. The way those women have drunk the Kool-aid and idolized this piece of crap is the biggest mystery since the Bermuda Triangle. I get that for the people to accept “the invitation,” they had to like the hostess. But you can’t create a horrible character with no redeeming qualities and try to tell me people actually venerate her! Personally, I can’t suspend my disbelief that much.
Whew! I feel lighter now! I haven’t felt this strongly about parts of a book in a long time! Again, these are MY ISSUES. And believe it or not, If you don’t take things as seriously as I do and are looking for a fast-paced, easy read, entertaining isolated setting, whodunnit. You might love The Invitation. Just don’t go in expecting similarities to Lucy Foley’s and Agatha Christie’s books; As a fan of their style, I didn’t see any.
My total rating: 3.5