I love hiking! Our family are big hikers, we’ve been hiking with our kids since they were babies, and living so close to the mountains here in Alberta, we are very lucky to be less than a one hour drive to some of the most beautiful provincial and national parks in Canada. Because I like to keep things interesting I thought – why not read a thriller about one of my favourite activities? I’m happy to report back that The Hike by Susi Holliday isn’t a book about responsible hikers who get themselves into trouble. Nope, it’s a book about some terrible people doing terrible things to each other – what fun!
Sisters Cat and Ginny are going on a hiking trip with their husbands in the Swiss Alps over a weekend. None of these four have much experience walking in the mountains, but Cat has been carefully planning this trip for weeks, and she’s excited for everyone to follow along. We get inside the head of each character, so we learn that Cat has actually been cheating on her husband Paul with her sister’s husband, Tristan. We also learn that Ginny swindled Cat out of money, effectively cutting her out of their parents’ will right before they died. Tristan cheats on Ginny regularly, (not just with her sister), and Paul has quit his well-paying investment banker job because he was accused of assaulting another woman in an elevator. Not a great bunch of people! The further along they go on the route, we learn that another man is following them, obsessed with Cat and eager to get close to her. But the book actually begins with a short chapter on Sunday morning at a police station, introducing readers to the fact that only one woman and one man make it off the mountain, both bruised and bloodied, so we alternate between the Saturday afternoon hike and the Sunday afternoon results to determine what actually happened.
Similar to my thoughts on a book I read a few weeks ago that also featured an unlikeable protagonist, the author’s choice to feature only terrible people is a bold one. Why do I care if one or two people fall off a mountain if they’re all awful anyway? Holliday is relying on the hope that even though readers may not be sad to see someone killed off, we’ll still want to know how it all ends, and who gets their comeuppance. She was right to include the teaser at the beginning of the book that implies only two of the four will survive, because at the very least, it piques our curiosity, and for the majority of the book, we don’t know which characters it will be. She also also includes many twists, which always helps to propel a thriller plot no matter what the characters’ likeability is. There is one person who is clearly meant to be the ‘best’ of the worst, but they all do despicable things to each other, so I wasn’t particularly disappointed to read the last page, but I was eager to solve the complicated puzzle that Holliday presented.
In addition to the glimpse into the future at the police station, there is a considerable amount of foreshadowing in this book. Characters are always making vague threats in their head about the others around them, something like ‘as long as I follow my plan today she’ll realize what a mistake she’s made’, or something similar. The entire atmosphere of the book is threatening, with ominous signs facing the group at every turn: a buzzard (vulture) following them up the mountain, other hikers warning of loose rocks and potential hazards on the trail, a reliance on a paper map that no one is quite sure how to read. The author makes it so incredibly obvious that this trip is going to turn into a disaster that the only way she could really keep the readers interest is through twists we didn’t see coming.
Unless you are a die-hard thriller fan, you can likely pass on this one. I picked it up as a ‘breather’ between some intense non-fiction reads, and I got what I wanted out of it – mindless enjoyment that made me forget about my stresses of the day. If you’re looking for a clever plot or engaging characters however, you are best to look elsewhere.