Sixteen-year-old Sadie is missing, lost somewhere in the woods. Her friends form a search party to find her. After all, they know her best – if they can’t find her, no one can. Detective Inspector Robin Fleet is heading up the police operation when he receives an urgent phone call. They’ve found the kids. And there’s a dead body.
These gripping opening scenes immediately hook the reader before we flash forward to the teens, who take turns telling us what happened in the woods. Information is revealed sparingly as we learn more about their friendships and realise they all had a motive for wanting Sadie to disappear. Abi was jealous of Sadie’s beauty, Cora wasn’t happy when her ex-boyfriend Mason started dating Sadie, Fash had a crush on Sadie that had recently become complicated, and Luke, Sadie’s twin brother, always felt like he was living in her shadow. As the search party treads deeper into the forest, their secrets go along with them, and as the trees close in, they fear they are not alone.
The Search Party is the latest crime release from British author Simon Lelic, who has now penned six suspense novels as well as a series of crime fiction books for younger readers. A story that could easily have become complicated with so many alternating points-of-view, it moves along at a snappy pace with short chapters and cleverly placed reveals so the reader is always eager to find out what happens next.
The forest setting is a perfect choice for a twisty thriller – the search for Sadie becoming increasingly difficult as the rain beats down and the characters feel both isolated and exposed, and as if they’re going around in circles. A dramatic climax plays out on the beds of a rushing river, where Fleet chases down the one person who can solve the mystery of Sadie’s disappearance.
The characters are well-drawn and believable – teenagers who feel suffocated living in a small town where everyone knows everyone, some alienated by their parents, others subject to violent behaviour. But at the core of the story are familial relationships and loyalties. I particularly appreciated the relationship between Fleet and his soon-to-be ex-wife Holly, who share a fondness and understanding despite knowing their marriage is over; and Fleet’s relationship with his estranged mother.
With a real page-turner of a plot and complex characters who are all hiding something, The Search Party is flawless suspense-writing that you’ll race through in a matter of hours.
The Search Party by Simon Lelic is published in Australia by Penguin.
The rain had dwindled to a mist. With no breeze to disturb it, it hung in the air like a dying breath.