As the guests get to know each other on the journey
The kindest thing I can say about The Launch Party by Lauren Forry is that it sent me scurrying back to my Agatha Christie collection after years.
I desperately needed to re-read Christie to restore my belief that tightly-plotted crime stories can still be found because The Launch Party is being publicised as a 21st century Agatha Christie-type locked room mystery set in a hotel on the moon, and when I read the book, all I could think was, “God help the 21st century”. Not only does the plotting of the story point to muddled thinking on the author’s part, it also makes the publisher look bad.
What makes it worse is that the story starts well. Ten people, apparently picked at random, have won a competition to spend two weeks’ holiday in the first-ever hotel on the moon — a holiday that all except one of them could never possibly afford on their own. These 10 people include a police officer, a billionaire, a doctor, a tabloid journalist, a divorce lawyer, a psychology professor, an ageing, fading reality TV star, a student criminologist, an architect, and an accountant. The trip from Earth to the moon takes three days, and once the spacecraft docks at the Hotel Artemis, the guests must remain indoors because of course there's no oxygen outdoors.
As the guests get to know each other on the journey out, the atmosphere on the spacecraft seems a little sinister. The police officer, Penelope, keeps to herself for reasons unknown. The doctor, Erik, refuses to divulge his medical specialty. Charlotte, the lawyer, and Alison, the professor, compete for Erik’s attention. Jackson, the accountant, is obsessed with Bobby, the reality TV star. Tonya, the journalist, seems to be escaping something. Charlotte is openly racist which makes Freddy, the criminologist, angry. Sasha, the architect, is hiding a secret, and why would Uchida, the billionaire, enter a public competition to get to the moon?
Then Penelope wakes up at 3 am and overhears the two public relations staff on the flight questioning an order the guests must not know of. What is happening? Why, when the spacecraft finally docks on the moon, does it leave for Earth immediately, leaving no staff in the hotel at all and no way out for the guests? Who killed Bobby? Why are people being murdered? Will the company that owns the Artemis send a spacecraft to rescue the guests? Will anyone leave the Artemis alive?
For the first third of the book, the tension was so strong that I was literally biting my nails in anticipation of the next corpse. Unfortunately, after a point, not only did the tension drop, but the characters became inconsistent in their actions. Finally, when the murderer’s motive was revealed, the story became so silly that I could not believe that what I was reading had actually been edited, printed, publicised and put into bookshops. This 21st century Christie-style novel is a disaster. I’ll take the 20th century Christie any day.
The Launch Party
By Lauren Forry
pp. 397; Rs 499