Book Review

The Search Party by Simon Lelic

16-year-old Sadie Saunders is missing.

Five friends set out into the woods to find her.

But they’re not just friends…

THEY’RE SUSPECTS.

You see, this was never a search party.

It’s a witch hunt.

And not everyone will make it home alive…


I’ve been a fan of Simon Lelic’s novels since reading The House in 2017 and so I was delighted to be offered the opportunity to read and review his latest novel, The Search Party, ahead of its publication in August.  I really like the concept of the novel, but unfortunately this one didn’t quite live up to my – admittedly high – expectations. It was good, but I didn’t love it.

Sixteen-year-old Sadie Saunders has been missing for six days.  Believing that the police are looking in the wrong place, her twin brother, Luke, and their friends Abi, Cora, Fash, and boyfriend Mason set out into the woods to search for her themselves.  The reader knows that this doesn’t turn out quite as they’d planned as the novel opens with an emergency call from the group.  Upon arrival, DI Fleet and his team find the search party and a body that isn’t Sadie’s.  Their story is then revealed through their interviews with the police, alternating between the different perspectives. Structurally, this works really well – I found myself hooked by the opening pages and was keen to understand what had happened to the group out in the woods.  It’s a great start, and the slow reveal of the events kept me engaged in the story.

Having a story told from so many perspectives can be tricky to pull off – it’s more difficult to reveal depth of character for all of those involved, and the various perspectives can be difficult to keep track of. While the story was engaging, I found myself struggling a little in this regard. There didn’t seem to be all that much to differentiate these characters, and there were a couple of points where I had to flick back to remind myself whose perspective I was following. I think that the character that was most thoroughly fleshed out was Sadie – I felt that I understood her quite well. I did also think that the group came across as being older than sixteen years – it came as something of a shock when I was reminded of their youth during the story, although that may just be my perception of what a sixteen-year-old is like today!

I did like DI Robin Fleet, however.  He has an interesting backstory, and some history in the (unnamed) town where the events of the novel take place.  This adds some additional tension to the novel – his back story isn’t immediately clear, but there’s a sense of a tight-knit community pulling together against someone they don’t like or disapprove of.  I couldn’t help but wonder how it would affect his work in what is already a complex case. I also enjoyed Lelic’s portrayal of police politics throughout the novel as Fleet’s boss focusses on budgets, media relations, and getting a result at any cost.  Fleet just wants to do the best job that he can, and his boss’s attitude only serves to make things more difficult as their difference in approach comes to a head. 

Overall, I enjoyed The Search Party, but I didn’t love it. I liked the concept and I wanted to know what had happened to Sadie and her friends, but there were a couple of elements that didn’t work for me.

The Search Party will be published on 20 August by Viking.  Many thanks to the publisher for the opportunity to read and review this novel ahead of publication via Netgalley.

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