FORECAST FRIDAY: THE SEARCH PARTY by Simon Lelic
Simon Lelic’s The Search Party (Viking) is not due out until August 2020, but it is certainly one to look out for!
This cleverly constructed novel plunges you into the midst of the story from the opening pages and then through a series of one-sided interviews reveals what went before. Six days ago, teenager Sadie Saunders went missing. The police and everyone in the small community where she lives, thinks that she is dead. They also think that they know who killed her. But her five friends are not sure, and together Abi, Cora, Mason, Fash and Luke, who is Sadie’s twin brother, sneak out into the thick woods where Sadie’s personal items were found. It starts out as a search party, but as events unfold it becomes something more sinister.
We know from the beginning that Sadie is missing and that the search party ended in disaster, with one of the teenagers dead. We do not know who is dead though, or how it happened, or whether Sadie is alive or not. Through a series of monologue interviews with the teenagers the events leading up to the death on the search party are revealed, while the ongoing investigation into Sadie’s disappearance is seen through the eyes of the lead investigator, DI Robin Fleet. Fleet was originally from the same town that is now the centre of the hunt for Sadie, but left after a personal tragedy, which has made him bitter about the town’s inhabitants and vice versa.
The device of using the individual one-sided conversations with the police to reveal what happened on the search party takes a little while to get used to, but once you become familiar with the speech patterns of each of the interviewees it works quite well and gives the story momentum. The teenagers are not a particularly likeable bunch, but then neither are the parents or the senior ranks of the police.
I thought that the structure of the novel was quite clever and that Lelic uses it well to generate a good level of suspense and uncertainty about what is happening. Some of the manipulation is a little heavy handed, for instance most of the interviews tend to end just as a surprise is about to be revealed, but it certainly keeps you reading. At times there is repetition in the interviews, with each of them telling about the same event from slightly different perspectives, and this causes some flat spots in the middle of the book, but otherwise it moves well. There are also some quite decent surprises.
For me the main downside was that because the search party was comprised of teenagers, I never got the same sense of menace, that I would have if it had been an adult search party. Despite the foreshadowed outcome, I never thought that any of them was physically capable of intentionally hurting someone. So, this reduced some of the tension for me.
Overall, though, I enjoyed it and I particularly liked the characters of the flawed and damaged Flood and his capable offsider DS Nicola Collins and would like to read about them again. This is the first book by Simon Lelic I have read, and I intend to go back and read some of his earlier ones.
Four stars out of five.
The Search Party is due out in the United Kingdom on 20 August 2020.
Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Random House UK for an advanced copy of the book.