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Q&A with Finley Turner - The Engagement Party

By Lucy Shardlow

We are delighted to welcome Finley Turner to The Reading Corner to talk about her new release, The Engagement Party, released on the 7th November 2023.

Kass Baptiste is newly engaged to her fiancé Murray Sedgemont after a whirlwind romance. Before they even get to share the news, an invitation arrives via messenger - to an engagement party hosted by Murray's parents. When Kass and Murray arrive at the Sedgemont Estate, she is astonished to learn that Murray's family is one of the most powerful families in North Carolina. As Kass' future mother-in-law, Beatrice, whips herself into a frenzy over the perfect party for the state's elite, Kass begins to receive anonymous threatening social media messages. On the night of the event, as champagne is popped and the celebrations begin, a body is found in the lavish home. All eyes are on Kass, the interloper amongst the rich and powerful guests. Over the course of the party, Kass's dark past unexpectedly becomes intertwined with the murder, and in order to prove her innocence, she must finally come to terms with her secrets. As Murray's family secrets are revealed, Kass must prove herself innocent while evading the anonymous threats that haunt her every move.

Hi Finley! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some of my questions on your debut novel The Engagement Party. I have seen a few accounts over on Goodreads compare your book to the likes of "Knives Out" and "The Death of Mrs Westaway". It is the perfect time of year to read a thriller!

Thanks for chatting with me, Lucy! These are such high compliments, as I’m a huge fan of both. I think locked-room mysteries and thrillers are great for winter when most of us are stuck inside. Hopefully not stuck inside with a murderer, though!

Can you start off by telling us a little bit about the process of writing The Engagement Party? Did you always know you wanted your first novel to be a thriller?

I wrote The Engagement Party over the course of six months and then edited for about the same amount of time. I wrote it while I was on submission with the first book I wrote so I could distract myself from the wait. About midway through writing it, I realized that I had way more fun writing this than my first project, and that lessened the heartbreak when my first project didn’t sell. I always knew I wanted to write thrillers. My mom brought me up watching British mysteries like Poirot and Inspector Morse, then when I got a bit older, we would read the same thrillers and talk about them. The genre holds a special place in my heart.

A lot of other thriller/murder mystery novels that I have read feature a multiple P.O.V storyline,

but you chose to write in the first person, following the journey of Kassandra. When crafting your work, did you always know that you would use first person narration, or did you ever try to experiment with multiple P.O.V?

For a while, I did consider writing from multiple points of view. When I tested it out, I tried narrating with both Kass and Murray, but I felt like I wasn’t able to go deep enough into the characters. I ended up settling on first person from Kass only because it intensified the feeling of being an outsider. First person allowed for a bit more paranoia from feeling constant judgement from the Sedgemonts and their guests, and it also allowed me to play around with her reliability as a narrator. Kass has some dark secrets, so as the book progresses, you can understand a little more where her impulsivity and even naivety come from, and her bad decisions start to make a little more sense.

Following on from this, as there are so many different and eccentric characters in your novel, how did you find the experience of character development? In particular when creating the striking opulence and elitism of the Sedgemont Estate, how did this differ from the development of your protagonist Kassandra?

I had so much fun creating the characters for this novel. The Sedgemonts and their wealthy guests are both over-the-top and unfortunately realistic for how extremely wealthy people can act. There’s a sense of being above the law and typical rules for propriety, despite being obsessed with the rules of “proper” decorum.

The wealth discrepancy between Kass and the Sedgemonts is jarring, of course, but Kass is by no means impoverished—she has a college degree and she can afford to live in Brooklyn, for example. Still, the Sedgemonts are so incredibly rich that anything less than the top 1% in their eyes is impoverished. They wield their wealth as a weapon, but it also serves to isolate them from reality and how your average person lives.

I would also love to learn more about the character of Murray. He is clearly a man with a lot of

secrets - all of which begin to unravel when he is in the presence of his family. Why was it so

important for the dynamic between the family to be so volatile? And why do you think he chose to keep so many secrets from Kass in the first place?

Oh, sweet Murray. He starts off so well, but perhaps that was more of Kass being blinded by the early stages of love and lust. When you’re being introduced to a new group of people, the person introducing you is supposed to be the bridge and help you get to know everyone. It’s clear that initially Murray wants to do this, but he quickly gets sucked into this strange alternative reality that his family has created and his maturity is sucked away by the presence of his mother, Beatrice, who still treats him like a little boy. Beatrice has a powerful presence and unfortunately tends to bring out the worst in people.

In terms of Murray’s secretive nature, I believe he’s fuelled by this intense desire to separate himself from his family, who are the only ones who know the real Murray.

As The Engagement Party is your debut novel, I would love to discover more about your journey as an author, but in particular as a female author. Have you always known that you wanted to be a writer? And how have you found the journey to becoming a published author?

Getting published is an emotionally taxing process. I got my first agent right before the lockdown began in 2020 and was on top of the world, not knowing that publishing, and everything else in the world, was about to come to a head-spinning halt. A few months later, I had to find a new agent and began sending out my first (still unpublished) novel to editors. I used to be embarrassed that my first novel never saw the light of day, but it’s far more common than I ever realized. I’ve learned to go a bit easier on myself and try to turn failures into a learning experience.

One benefit of being a woman writer is that a huge bulk of thriller readers, especially domestic suspense readers, are women. I feel very at home in this genre considering so many of the top thriller authors right now are women. I typically prefer reading books by women about women, and I’m sure there are men who prefer the same for their own gender—I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. That being said, I often joke that maybe my somewhat-unisex name will be helpful in that regard.

As we approach the end of 2023, what have been some of your favourite reads of the year? Have any of these books inspired you with your own writing?

I will admit I’ve been painfully behind on reading during the first year of my daughter’s life. This year I challenged myself to read outside my genre, especially with what’s trending on social media. I never read romance or “romantasy” until this year and it’s been so fun to read something entirely different from what I write. It’s lovely to see people enthusiastically talk about books online, and there’s a lot of value in parsing out what makes readers go feral over books. I hope I can channel that into my next novels.

I recently listened to Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson, which was both a great thriller but also a witty and playful criticism of the genre’s tropes. In terms of inspiration, right before I began my final edits for The Engagement Party, I read Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney, which definitely helped me intensify the feeling of physical isolation in my own book. I will never, ever forget that twist. What a gut punch! I’m currently reading both Zero Days by Ruth Ware and Yellowface by R.F. Kuang and I have a suspicion that these two may usurp all others as my favourite reads of the year.

This was such a fascinating read! It brought mystery, suspense and darkness straight to the page. One that I am sure so many people would be interested to read. So finally, where will readers be able to access The Engagement Party?

I’m so glad you enjoyed it and grateful for your time to chat about the book. In the UK, you can get the paperback and audiobook from Amazon. The ebook is currently available on Amazon for 99p or for free through Kindle Unlimited. In the US, you can find it through your local independent bookstores, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Audible. I hope everyone who picks up a copy enjoys it!

Finley Turner is a debut suspense author. She made a career change to become an archivist at a university after leaving academia, where she studied cults and new religious movements.

When not producing and consuming all things morbid and dark, Finley can typically be found playing video games with her husband, and occasionally pausing to interrogate her rescue animals about what they're chewing on.


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