Book review: Friends to Die For by Hilary Bonner

What could be better for these dark, autumn nights than a classy, classic whodunit?

Friends to Die For by Hilary Bonner
Friends to Die For by Hilary Bonner

Hilary Bonner, former Fleet Street journalist and prolific author, knows all the smartest tricks of the crime genre, excelling in intelligent, edge-of-your-seat, psychological suspense stories, and her new thriller packs a suitably powerful punch.

The action is centred on Johnny’s Place, a fictional Covent Garden bar inspired by the real-life famous London showbusiness restaurant Joe Allen and a favourite haunt of the author.

It’s the Sunday teatime meeting place for ten London friends who become the victims of an increasingly sinister prankster; they know that the perpetrator must be one of the group but discovering who it is becomes a matter of life and death.

Ten people, all very different characters and all from different backgrounds, but the one thing they have in common is their Sunday Club meal together at Johnny’s Place, a casual arrangement but a ritual nonetheless.

One of their favourite pastimes is playing The Game, a version of the traditional Truth Game in which everyone has to answer a question in turn. It’s supposed to be for entertainment rather than revelation but sometimes uncomfortable truths make an unexpected appearance.

And sometimes these truths reveal their hidden insecurities, their secrets, their regrets and past miseries.

So when members of the group start becoming victims of pranks – funny at first but then increasingly personal, dangerous, violent and disturbing – they know instinctively that it can only be a Sunday Club diner.

When one of them eventually dies, the remaining friends struggle to manage their grief and their wild suspicions. On the case is the Met’s cleverest and most unconventional detective DS David Vogel who must discover whether one of the prime suspects really is capable of murder…

Bonner’s superbly executed thriller operates in dream whodunit territory… dashes of black humour, some obligatory red herrings, a list of fascinating, eclectic suspects – each with a closet full of skeletons – and a scattering of clues to keep the grey matter in motion.

This a marvellous portrayal of cosy relationships buckling under the weight of suspicion and fear as factions are formed, friend turns on friend and tensions reach breaking point.

The breathless race to track down the killer is guaranteed to keep the midnight oil burning…

(Pan, paperback, £7.99)