When six friends book a weekend stay at a remote barn on the Northumberland moors, a violent overnight storm exposes the cracks in their relationships, some of which could prove fatal in Gilly Macmillan’s The Long Weekend.
In an isolated retreat, deep in the Northumbria moors, three women arrive for a weekend getaway. Their husbands will be joining them in the morning. Or so they think. But when they get to Dark Fell Barn, the women find a devastating note that claims one of their husbands has been murdered. Their phones are out of range. There’s no internet. They’re stranded. And a storm’s coming in.
Friendships fracture and the situation spins out of control as each wife tries to find out what’s going on, who is responsible and which husband has been targeted. This was a tight-knit group. They’ve survived a lot. But they won’t weather this. Because someone has decided that enough is enough. That it’s time for a reckoning.
Enjoying some well-earned time away from work and family commitments with good friends in a remote cottage or barn conversion sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Unfortunately for the friendship group in The Long Weekend, this being a Gilly Macmillan novel, their planned weekend get-together will be far from cosy and relaxing, and any walks either treacherous or unnerving at best. It may even be a matter of life and death for them, as they’re about to discover.
Shortly after the three wives are dropped off at the barn, they find a note telling them that one of their husbands has been murdered. It’s revealing to see how they take this news and the way in which each responds. We start to get a feel for their characters and how different they are. Their husbands should be joining them the following morning but with no phone signal or internet, they’re unable to check in with them. Does the note contain a genuine threat or is it a hoax? Should they venture out to try and get a signal or go down to the farmhouse for help? Or would they be better off staying put and seeing if some or all of the men arrive as arranged the next day? What would you do in their situation?
As Gilly Macmillan takes her reader through the tumultuous and disturbing first night of the women’s stay at the barn, things rapidly begin to unravel. Gilly Macmillan whips through events at breakneck speed. It’s as wild a ride as the storm which blows in and batters the Northumbrian hills and moorland. Every time one of the women ventured outside, I felt as if I were out there with her, battling through the elements, while trying to keep our nerve. And the chill from the wind and lashing rain wasn’t the only thing which sent shivers down my spine. I also felt a creeping sense of unease about what seemed to be someone’s sick and incredibly cruel game being conducted entirely at their expense.
The storm’s impact outside the barn is mirrored by an equal amount of devastation within. That sinister welcome note sets the women’s minds racing and worries, doubts, fears and suspicions soon surface, again giving us more insight into who these women are and their relationship dynamics. It also understandably creates tensions among the three of them and we begin to get an idea of the faultlines within their relationships with each other and those with their husbands. It seems they don’t know each other as well as they thought they did. And perhaps that’s not entirely unexpected. They each have their secrets and particular blindspots, even newcomer Emily, who otherwise seems more perceptive than either Jayne, who’s been trained to detect them, or Ruth, who’s become practised at hiding some of her own.
In addition to this main story, there’s also the more poignant one of the farmer and his wife, which provides yet more opportunity for Gilly Macmillan to add to the confusion of the weekend, while also contrasting the friends’ weekend retreat to the countryside with those who’ve worked the land for years. And, linked to what’s playing out here on the Northumberland hills, the 17-year-old daughter of a mutual friend is caught up in a bewildering and frightening situation of her own, one where she also finds herself questioning her own judgement and who she can afford to trust.
Gilly Macmillan’s moorish mix of long-hidden secrets, lies, and obsession together with a particularly wild and stormy night on the Northumberland moors all combine to upset the equilibrium of this once close friendship group and their wives, exposing their weaknesses and vulnerabilities. The Long Weekend‘s master manipulator makes full use of these to toy with her characters and her reader. For that title belongs to the book’s author, rather than its villain here. Gilly Macmillan cleverly orchestrates things, switching between storylines, feeding us just enough information to keep us hooked throughout while wanting yet more answers, and stumbling over clues in a frantic bid to work out who was behind everything. She teases, wrong-foots and fiendishly ramps up the tension before the final reveal.
The Long Weekend may have felt excruciatingly long for the women in the book. (I felt as if I got to know them better than most of the men.) It was anything but that for me. I devoured this in three deliciously greedy gulps. It’s such a compelling read and one I’d heartily recommend, although perhaps not when you’re on a weekend away with friends…
The Long Weekend by Gilly Macmillan is published by Century, an imprint of Penguin Books UK. It’s available as an audiobook, ebook and in hardback from this Thursday and you can pre-order it from Amazon UK (affiliate link), Bookshop.org (affiliate link), Hive and Waterstones. You can find Gilly Macmillan at her Author Website or on her Facebook Page, or follow her on Instagram or on Twitter.
My thanks to Isabelle Ralphs at the publisher for sending me a review copy via NetGalley and for inviting me to take part in the blog tour for this book.