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A Death at the Party


A Death at the Party

Long-buried secrets threaten to upend a meticulously planned birthday celebration in Amy Stuart’s new domestic thriller, A DEATH AT THE PARTY.

Nadine Walsh has spent months preparing to host a 60th birthday party for her mother, bestselling author Marilyn Millay. The flowers have been picked, the caterer has been booked, and the band has been hired. All that remains is to have a good time. Unfortunately, Nadine is feeling anything but calm when the day of the big event dawns. There’s the stress of the impending celebration, for one, plus her family to manage --- her husband, Paul, and their teenage children, Damien and Isobel.

"A DEATH AT THE PARTY features a complex main character and a keen understanding of the subtle politics of family life."

Keeping all the details straight is a challenge, given that Nadine's mind isn’t as sharp as it once was. She’s been feeling foggy ever since a New Year’s Eve fall down a flight of uncarpeted stairs led to a broken hip, a long stint in the hospital and rehab. Oh, and she’s dealing with a minor case of blackmail. On top of everything, Nadine’s mother shares her birthday with another, grimmer anniversary: the death of her 15-year-old sister, Colleen, who fell from the hayloft in the family barn at Marilyn’s 30th birthday party. Nadine was the one who found her body. It’s a tragedy that neither she nor her mother has come to terms with, which becomes clear as Stuart’s twisty novel unfolds over the course of a single day.

A DEATH AT THE PARTY begins, fittingly, with a death. Nadine, who narrates the book, watches an unnamed man expire on her bathroom floor and coolly returns to her guests as if nothing has happened. Stuart then jumps back to the beginning of the day, following Nadine in the hours leading up to Marilyn’s party.

Along the way, Stuart introduces various friends and neighbors of Nadine’s, several of whom emerge as strong candidates to be the man who won’t make it out of her house alive. They include a nosy reporter determined to publish a salacious scoop about Marilyn’s personal life. (Her devoted fans approach her in the street clutching books and seeking autographs, and tabloid scribes eagerly root around in her past for any whiff of scandal.) Marvin, who owns the neighborhood corner store, is privy to some of Nadine’s secrets; he doesn’t quite fit in with his well-off neighbors. Teddy, who rents the other half of Nadine’s semi-detached Victorian, is a bit too charming --- always a warning sign in a book like this. And Nadine barely tolerates Paul’s old friends, Lionel and Seymour, who live on the same street as the Walshes, for reasons that eventually become clear.

The mystery of Colleen’s death hangs over the novel, and it turns out to be linked to the one at Marilyn’s party, as well as a recent tragedy involving the daughter of another character. When the book begins, Nadine is troubled by a gnawing sense of anxiety. She’s paranoid and distrustful, seeing sinister motivations in the moves of those around her. But is something nefarious really afoot? Initially, she comes off as something of an unreliable narrator, and it’s not clear whether the suspicions Nadine harbors about other characters are grounded in reality or the product of her imagination. But gradually, Nadine comes to realize the truth of what’s really going on, as the final pieces click into place in a climactic scene at her mother’s party.

A DEATH AT THE PARTY features a complex main character and a keen understanding of the subtle politics of family life. “I’m the one who holds everything together,” Nadine says during a tense conversation with her husband. “I’m the one who fixes things when they fall apart. Sometimes you know nothing about it. That’s not me lying to you. That’s a luxury I’m affording you.” A few characters are thinly drawn, and a handful of details are a bit too convenient. (How likely is it that Paul and his closest childhood friends would all manage to find houses on the same street in the same exclusive neighborhood?) But that doesn’t make the journey to finding out who ends up dead at Marilyn's party any less intriguing.

Reviewed by Megan Elliott on March 10, 2023

A Death at the Party
by Amy Stuart