Now that Karen M. McManus’ One Of Us Is Lying series has drawn to a close, readers will be looking for a new YA contemporary mystery book to keep their amateur detective skills sharp. If you want something that combines a classic suspense story with a group of suspicious characters and an angsty drama driven by jealousy and betrayal, then look no further than Lauren Muñoz’s Suddenly A Murder – a locked-room murder mystery set against the backdrop of a glamorous 1920’s themed graduation party.
To celebrate the end of high school, best friends Izzy and Kassidy head to an isolated island with their close-knit circle of friends for a getaway at the opulent Ashwood Manor. As the luxury location of the girls’ favourite Hollywood movie, the island is the perfect setting for a roaring twenties inspired celebration complete with vintage dresses, plentiful champagne and Gatsby-esque decadence. But what should have been paradise soon turns into a nightmare when one of the seven friends turns up dead.
Everyone had a reason for wanting Blaine gone. First there’s Izzy, the book’s main protagonist, who brought a knife to the island with the sole intention of using it against him. Next there’s Kassidy, Blaine’s girlfriend, and Chloe, the girl he cheated with. Then there’s Blaine’s old best friend Fergus and his new friend Ellison. Finally, there’s aloof enigma Marlowe, who watches and listens from his brooding place at the edge of the group. Blaine had hurt each of his friends in turn, but who was wounded enough to commit murder?
If I were the kind of person who believed in signs, I might think the universe approved of the crime I was about to commit. But I’m not that kind of person. That person would have spilled their secret to Kassidy weeks ago, hoping the universe would repay their good deed. I’m more of a don’t-fuck-with-my-future-if-you-don’t-want-to-meet-my-knife kind of girl. At least I want to be. My shaking hands tell a different story.”
Whilst the plot of Suddenly A Murder isn’t a new one, it is most definitely a good one. The murder mystery feels as if it could have come straight from an Agatha Christie novel, with a house full of suspects and a list of compelling motivations. The 1920’s theme adds to the glamorous, moneyed feel of the tale, and there’s even a quirky detective duo who head to the island to investigate the sparkling, young socialites – one of which showboats very much like a modern-day Poirot. These classic murder mystery elements work wonderfully in a contemporary setting, where the characters might act like adults but are very much still just troubled teenagers struggling to deal with love, heartbreak and the pressures of school/family.
This is a story populated by obscenely privileged characters, so it makes sense for the eyes into their world to be a slight outsider. As the daughter of immigrants, Izzy doesn’t have the same money and status as her friends. They don’t treat her differently but she knows that any mistake she makes could ruin her future. So when that future is threatened, she takes matters into her own hands to protect it. Readers know that she’s hiding something; that she went into Blaine’s room with a knife and he was found dead soon after. But the more we learn about the friends, the more it could have been any of them who actually murdered him.
As Izzy sneaks through the secret passages of the house, listening to the detectives interviewing her friends and learning their shameful secrets, we acquire the clever means, the dark motives and convenient opportunities each person had on the night Blaine died. The book is also interspersed with brief flashback chapters set at various points in the past, which explore the characters’ complicated relationships and the key events that might have driven each of them to murder. Muñoz layers the story with twist upon turn upon twist, and though some characters might seem a little more obvious as suspects than others, the final reveal – taking place amidst a raging storm that’s more than metaphorical – still packs a punch.
As with a lot of YA murder mysteries, there are certain parts of the story that feel a little too convenient and the end is wrapped up easily without any exploration of the long-term ramifications of everyone’s actions. It’s a shame there isn’t an epilogue to show what happened after the island. But none of that stops this from being a fun and atmospheric mystery to unravel. There’s also a touch of sweet romance that genuinely feels deserving of its own story (I’d absolutely read an Izzy/Marlowe prequel).
A quick and clever whodunnit with plenty of red herrings up its sleeve, Suddenly A Murder introduces Lauren Muñoz as an exciting new voice in the YA mystery genre. It will fill the One Of Us Is Lying sized hole in your life, whilst keeping you up until the early hours as you try to unpick the lies and secrets that the characters are tangled up in.
Suddenly A Murder is published by Hot Key Books on 5 September 2023