There Should Have Been Eight
Grade : B+

A creepy house. Seven semi-estranged friends. One stranger. Mysterious events. Nalini Singh’s latest thriller, There Should Have Been Eight, had me thinking of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, although the tales vary in significant ways. Still, if you are looking for a solid locked-room thriller and love the vibe of Christie’s old novel, this is the story for you.

It’s been nearly a decade since Bea’s death, but for Luna Wylie, her loss has been a daily agony. Bea had been the star around which the rest of their friendship group orbited, and her demise cast them adrift. Now, Bea’s sister Darcie has arranged for them to gather at the old family estate. A semi-ruined mansion in an isolated part of New Zealand, the place is difficult to get to, and its environs can be dangerous to traverse. It will, of course, prove to be even more hazardous to leave. But I’m jumping ahead.

Having met as teens and stayed (loosely) connected through adulthood, the seven compadres know darn near everything about each other. They know who among them has hooked up and broke up. They know who not-so-secretly really doesn’t like another member. They know who’s cheating on who - and with whom. But it’s what they don’t know that may kill them.

Luna is the narrator for our fun outing into this wild world, and she is, as is the vogue nowadays, a tad unreliable. An adopted child, she has an unexpected genetic ocular degenerative disorder that will soon leave her blind. This would be devastating enough for anyone to discover, but Luna is a photographer who has always interacted with the world from behind her camera. Even with her close friends, she is more likely to be taking pictures than taking part in the action depicted in the photos. She hasn’t told anyone about the coming crisis, preferring to process it quietly herself before making it public, but it has begun to seriously impede her life. Her night vision is completely gone, leaving her sightless every evening unless she is surrounded by reliable lighting. And wouldn’t you know it, an ancient mansion in the back of beyond just happens to have very unreliable lighting.

Luna had planned to take the opportunity afforded by this get-together to demand answers from Darcie. She is convinced her intense (and, from my viewpoint, creepy) mourning of Bea is due to the fact that Darcie had had her sister cremated far from home. Without a grave, Luna has not been able to mourn and move on properly. However, no one else seems to want to talk about the past, and before Luna can force the subject upon them, she learns that Darcie is experiencing a difficult start to her first pregnancy. Luna decides to let the past stay in the past as a result.

Luna’s courteous concern for her friend’s condition is not shared by all, however, because Darcie is the victim of a cruel prank on the first day of their reunion. That’s just the start. Strange things begin to happen that have all the guests wondering just who among them wants to stir up trouble and why. When they find themselves trapped by the weather, the delicacy of their situation becomes even more evident. There should have been eight of them there, but their friendship has been reduced to seven. Will the macabre events and dangerous setting reduce their numbers even more?

To clarify, while the title is There Should Have Been Eight, there actually are eight. One of the seven has brought his fiancée with him, someone the other guests have never met before. While Grace is a stranger to their group, her sweet personality, lively demeanor, and obvious adoration of their friend Aaron have them joyfully accepting her into their clique. Kaea and Luna are the only singletons in the remaining six, with Ash being married to Darcie and Nix being married to Vansi.

The story is told from the first-person point of view of Luna, so the other characters are impressions seen solely from her perspective. This adds to the sense of danger since, at the start, we are unsure if Luna simply doesn’t know she’s (possibly) besties with a psycho, or if an unseen stranger is stalking their small group, or if the events are simply the result of bad luck. But it also means that the story is almost solely about one person - Luna’s thoughts and feelings are all we are certain of in the increasingly uncertain world of our narrative. I have mixed feelings on how well this workw. On the one hand, Luna is primarily a practical, rational person who is an astute observer and able to work through everything that is happening carefully. That makes her a wonderful amateur detective. On the other hand, she has a major issue going on with her health in terms of her encroaching loss of sight, and she is more than a little unhinged in regard to her feelings about Bea. That made her less reliable than I prefer in a situation where I am solely dependent on one character for information. It also leaves me, as a reviewer, in a bit of a conundrum. I don’t want to talk about the secondary players because part of the joy of the story is unraveling who they are and the degree to which Luna knows them. Again, I have mixed feelings on how well the author pulls this off since, while our questions regarding them add to the suspense, the resultant superficial knowledge of important players takes away some of the emotional depth the book could have had.

The creepy location and locked room nature of the mystery had me expecting a gothic vibe, especially given the number of people who had died in the past under mysterious circumstances in the oversized, secret-passage-filled manse. This story lacks the ambiance for that, but the more grounded atmosphere of the suspense actually worked beautifully. I absolutely loved how the story focuses on probable explanations for everything that is happening over paranormal ones, and how the very real sense of danger and menace come not from some macabre factor of the house itself but the (possibly) dangerous denizens inside it. I also loved that the layout of the manor made it possible there was a ninth person messing with them. Just what was happening remained a question till the very end.

The author also nails the pacing. It’s brisk but not so fast-paced you are overwhelmed by the action.

Luna is an interesting heroine. She is a bit unstable, but she is also very kind, just, resourceful, brave, and wise. My only complaint about her comes from the obsession she has with Bea and how unbalanced it is.

I have a couple of quibbles that keep the story from DIK status, which are the over-the-top ending and the Hollywood-style depiction of mental illness, the drugs used to control it, and a seeming misunderstanding of how sedatives actually work. For the record, books/TV/movies often get these things wrong.

That said, There Should Have Been Eight is a good mystery with excellent prose. I recommend it to the author’s legion of fans together with anyone who enjoys suspense stories.

Reviewed by Maggie Boyd
Grade : B+
Book Type: Mystery

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : December 3, 2023

Publication Date: 11/2023

Review Tags: AoC New Zealand PoC

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Maggie Boyd

I've been an avid reader since 2nd grade and discovered romance when my cousin lent me Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe in 7th grade. I currently read approximately 150 books a year, comprised of a mix of Young Adult, romance, mystery, women's fiction, and science fiction/fantasy.
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