The first hotel on the Moon. Two weeks. Ten guests. One murderer.
Such dramatics form the tagline and therefore conceit of Lauren Forry’s The Launch Party, a mystery that blends speculative sci-fi with the classic trappings of a Golden Age murder mystery, namely of putting a group of people together and watching as they start to drop at the hands of a mysterious murderer.
It’s a concept well-honed by the likes of Agatha Christie, but the ingenious selling point of The Launch Party puts a decet of lottery winners at the Hotel Artemis, the very first space hotel. Trapped in the lap of luxury, the group find themselves all alone in the hotel and upon waking for the first time, find that one of their own has gruesomely died, meaning that not only must Scotland Yard detective Penelope Strand take a busman’s holiday and solve the case, she must work out which of her reluctant allies and/or enemies is the culprit.
The concept is certainly intriguing enough and Forry’s sense of pacing and plot helps drive the story forward. That’s not to say that The Launch Party is a revolutionary take on a whodunnit; it’s an enjoyable if rote take on a classic formula, populated with a handful of suspects, a perilous, isolated situation, and a ticking timeline, but Forry does an admirable job, even if the carnage is a little less bloody than advertised (promo has been liking this to the deluge of death that is Christie’s And Then There Were None or Death Comes As The End).
The Launch Party, however, is not without its flaws. The characters, in an admittedly Christie-esque spirit, are thinly sketched out, with the international appeal of the contestants allowing unfortunate stereotypes to play into their characterisation (the Japanese businessman is stoic and mysterious, the Swiss doctor plays neutral ground, the German… well, you get the picture). Even main investigator and ostensible heroine Penelope (don’t call her Penny) doesn’t escape, as the typical Cop With a Tragic Backstory. This isn’t to say no character feels fresh – Tonya, the Gale Weathers-esque reporter member of the lucky ten has an arc of growth that feels earned, while the two young men in the group – zealous Canadian Jordan and intrepid New Yorker Freddy, both queer – have moments of pathos that shine in The Launch Party‘s near 400-page count.
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Coupled with a third act that moves a little too fast for its own good, and an ending that relies on a touch of suspension of disbelief in order to stick the landing, The Launch Party far from reinvents the wheel of murder mysteries. It does, however, prove a uniformly entertaining read, both as a sci-fi examination of consumer culture in the not-too-far-flung future, and also as a modernist spin on the classic closed-circle murder mystery. Forry may not be a household name yet with the likes of Anthony Horowitz, Lucy Foley, and Alice Feeney, but mysteries such as The Launch Party ensure that her name is one well worth to keep your eye on.
The Launch Party is out now from Bonnier Books.