The Guilt Trip

By Sandie Jones

Publisher/Year: Macmillan 2021

Publisher description

They went away as friends.
They came back as suspects . . .

Jack and Rachel. Noah and Paige. Will and Ali. Five friends who’ve known each other for years. And Ali, Will’s new fiancée.
To celebrate the forthcoming wedding, all three couples are having a weekend get-away together in Portugal.
It’s a chance to relax and get to know Ali a little better perhaps. A newcomer to their group, she seems perfectly nice and Will seems happy after years of bad choices. But Ali is hiding more than one secret . . .
By the end of the weekend there’ll be one dead body and five people with guilty consciences wondering if they really know each other so well after all. Because one of them has to be the killer . . .

Reviewer: Susan Green

“They went away as friends. They came back as suspects.”

British writer Sandie Jones specialises in binge-worthy psychological suspense. With three previous novels under her belt, including the best seller The Other Woman – which was a Reese Witherspoon pick, The Guilt Trip is her latest.

 Three couples converge on a luxury villa on the coast of Portugal in the lead-up to a lavish wedding. And I’ll say right now that I found the whole pack of them basically unlikeable (rich, white, privileged, self-absorbed), but in this kind of tale it’s a given that twisty plotting trumps character development.

 There’s Rachel, a fortyish stay-at-home mother, who’s married to Jack, owner of an entertainment company. It’s through Rachel’s eyes that the events unfold. The groom is Jack’s brother, the happy‑go‑lucky Will, who has finally met the right woman. Ali is a gorgeous and young, also working in the entertainment industry. She doesn’t quite fit in; a bit out there, loud and ditzy, tending to drama and exaggeration. As she’s first introduced, Ali borders on obnoxious; Jones is certainly setting her up as untrustworthy, even a potential villain. The other couple are Noah and Paige. Rachel and Noah are old friends. Best friends. In fact, soul mates – though married to other people. Paige is a chic, self-contained high-flying lawyer.

While waiting for the big day, the six plan to relax and unwind: surfing lessons, yoga on the beach, food and drink around the pool, dinner at a local restaurant. Everyone has known each other for a long time – except the bride, Ali – so it’s a chance for the two couples – Rachel and Jack, Noah and Paige –  to get to know Ali better. What could go wrong?

It turns out, plenty. Jones turns the paranoia switch up to 11 with a steady stream of tiny events – shoes in bedrooms, watches in drawers, little lies, half-heard conversations, secret purchases from Tiffany’s – so that Rachel’s suspicions mount. Marriages and tempers fray. There’s a near-drowning.

The Guilt Trip relies on the characters seemingly unable to deal with any issues in an honest and straightforward manner: I felt like ordering them all off to therapy to sort themselves out.  The lies and secrets hide nothing all that extraordinary, and for me the motivations don’t quite tally with the shocking outcome. Though Jones paints Rachel as basically a good and well-meaning person, Rachel’s increasingly fevered imagination makes her seem unbalanced. She plunges into a frenzy of doubt. Is Ali who she seems? Is Jack having an affair? What are her real feelings for Noah? Can she trust her own perceptions? The reader starts to wonder, Is Rachel being gaslighted?

And I’d better stop right there, because the whole point of The Guilt Trip is ratcheting suspense.

The book is sold as a thriller, but for my money it’s more of a relationship drama. Or melodrama, as the whole story drips with sex-and-shopping soap opera style; intense and claustrophobic, with characters lightly sketched, and the action mostly conveyed via conversations and filtered through Rachel’s unravelling reality. With all the gaslighting and deception and illicit passion, reading it was a bit of a guilty pleasure. Like watching daytime TV in bed while drinking Kahlua. Not saying that’s a bad thing! I could survey the plot holes, but why bother? Sandie Jones has written an undemanding but ultimately addictive read.