Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Book Review: The Search Party

By Jami Deise

With their understated reactions to everything, the British usually deliver mysteries and thrillers that pack a quiet punch with endings that reverberate. British author Simon Lelic continues this tradition with The Search Party, the writer’s first psychological thriller. When their friend goes missing, five teenagers head to the woods to find her… with tragic results. As Detective Inspector Fleet tries to piece together what actually happened based on four very different accounts, at the same time he fights memories from a tragedy in his own past in the same town from which Sadie Saunders disappeared.

Lelic’s authorial voice reminded me of British mystery writer Martha Grimes, and his inspector is as circumspect as Grimes’s Richard Jury. But while most authors stick to the point of view of the detective and other investigators, Lelic intersperses Fleet’s actions with transcripts of Sadie’s friends—Cora, Abi, Mason and Fash—as they recount what happened in the woods during those two days they were looking for Sadie, and how Sadie’s brother ended up dead. The latter chapters all begin with the kids talking to an unseen interrogator, and then moving breathlessly to a play-by-play description of what happened from the time they decided to search for the girl themselves. At times, these scenes reminded me of The Blair Witch Project.

While I was quite invested in Fleet’s investigation and was curious about his past and why his marriage fell apart, I was less interested in Sadie and her friends. When the book begins, Sadie is already missing; while she is described by her friends as a princess who was worshipped by her classmates and adored by her parents, since she never appears “on-screen,” I found it hard to care about her. Similarly, with her friends all recounting the action afterward in similar voices, none of them really stood out to me—I kept getting Cora and Abi mixed up, for instance.

But Lelic’s ending makes up for these missteps. Employing a sleigh-of-hand I never saw coming, he compounds tragedy after tragedy to leave readers slack-jawed. It was the type of ending that made me want to go back and reread the book for clues I missed the first time.

For me, the ending is the most important element of a book. I’m willing to forgive a lot if the ending delivers. The Search Party ending delivers in spades, making the read a worthwhile investment. And while I had my fill of the teenagers, I’d like to see more stories featuring Detective Inspector Fleet and his colleagues. His mixture of sad backstory, quiet competence and British stiff-upper-lippedness makes for a compelling detective.

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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