The Dinner Party

Rebecca Heath

Publisher: Head of Zeus, part of Bloomsbury Publishing 2024

Publisher’s blurb

The exciting new thriller by Rebecca Heath, author of THE SUMMER PARTY. A dark and twisty domestic thriller set in a seemingly idyllic suburban neighbourhood, where family secrets are best kept buried…FOUR COUPLES.
Summer 1979. In the idyllic suburban neighbourhood of Ridgefield, during a scorching heat wave, four couples gather for their weekly dinner party.
When Frank Callaghan checks on the sleeping children, he finds an empty crib where his four-month-old daughter Megan should be sleeping. The partygoers swear they didn’t see anything but each of them has something to hide.
Forty years later, a stranger knocks at the Callaghan’s door claiming to be Megan. The family are sceptical until they see what she is holding – the blanket she was wrapped in the night she disappeared. Where has Megan been all this time? And how well do you really know your neighbours?

by Karin Kos

Rebecca Heath launches her reader into the life of Billie Callaghan as she navigates the trauma of her family’s mysterious past, embroiled in her mother’s inability to move on from the deceit that has framed the obsession of her life. Set in suburban Ridgefield, The Dinner Party captures contemporary South Australia; a family overlaid with the memory of fateful events of 1979 and the relaxed attitudes to parenting that still haunt the present-day characters. Family secrets, the legacy of those earlier times, are difficult to uncover. 

If you enjoyed Heath’s first novel The Summer Party, this second novel The Dinner Party will spark even more curiosity. Heath continues her focus on families entwined in suspicious events, crafting her characters with great depth and imagery that makes it difficult to stop reading. The  protagonist, Billie, struggles with the legacy of a family who paradoxically both need and repel one another. Billie’s mother Amanda had an infant sister who returns as an enigmatic older woman, bringing more questions than answers to the traumatic night of the dinner party in 1979.

As a reader I was torn between the secrets, lies and deceptions that become part of the thrill of being involved in pursuing the truth. Heath asks us to question whether the truth is important to maintain family happiness or whether we should accept what the future brings. 

Through a quest to bring harmony to her family, Billie relies on her husband Nathan and her sister, Eve. Billie’s search for the truth ensnares her in other deceptions closer to home and the revelations become painful for many in the Callaghan family. Repercussions affect the characters through a broad array of tension filled events. These pivotal events are carefully woven through excerpts of a podcast that uncover the truth yet leave parallel questions unanswered. It challenges the reader to question how unbiased someone’s truth really is. 

Heath threads the memories of the attendees of the disastrous “the party from hell”, where suspicions are played out through petty jealousies, power games and misogyny. Rivalries are sparked as the personal accounts from 1979 cast characters into doubt. They are depicted as superficial, awkward, and supplicating.

The story is told through the combined narrative voices of Billie, Ruby Costa – podcaster and award-winning journalist, and streetwise trophy wife, Trish, who is undermined at every turn. The reader unravels how families can be collectively harmed and reputations can be marred from something which, on the surface at least, was described as playful and friendly. The individual journeys of these women is a focal point for female voices and their lack of agency in 1970’s suburbia. 

In The Dinner Party, Heath paints a distinctly Australian psychological landscape intersected by the paths of women who no longer allowed their lives to be controlled by the whims of others, who found their own strengths to pursue justice and family harmony.

The suspense and constant tension are beautifully paced throughout the story, and I found myself desperate to want to know the truth. Heath enables her reader to question what we believe about honesty, personal motivations, and the legacy of deception so intrinsic to the human psyche. Chapters ended in cliffhangers and the pacing made me ask, “and then what happens?”.  

There is a depth to this story and its characters as shown in the way plot twists and red herrings became ever more complex. I cared what happened to them in this carefully crafted and deeply layered story.