by Hannah Richell
Publisher: Simon & Schuster 2024
Five old friends reunite for an idyllic glamping holiday on the rugged Cornwall coast, but tensions rise when a storm leaves them stranded and someone goes missing.
Max and Annie Kingsley have left the London rat race with their twelve-year-old son to set up a glamping site in the wilds of Cornwall. Eager for a dry run ahead of their opening, they invite three old university friends and their families for a long-needed reunion and a relaxing weekend.
But the festivities soon go awry as tensions arise between the children (and subsequently their parents), explosive secrets come to light, and a sudden storm moves in, cutting them off from help as one in the group disappears.
Moving between a police investigation, a hospital room and the catastrophic weekend, The Search Party is a propulsive destination thriller about the tenuous bonds of friendship and the lengths parents will go to protect their children.
by Jacquie Byron
I get annoyed when people use the term “holiday” or “beach read” like it’s an insult. The books I set aside to read when my precious time is finally my own – when I’m reading for pure pleasure and not to meet deadlines or fulfil expectations – have to be corkers. They play a key role in my overall verdict of the holiday. A lot rides on them.
Hannah Richell’s The Search Party was consumed over a couple of leisurely days in lovely Daylesford, Victoria, and a better holiday read I could not have asked for. The book was everything I look for – gripping, entertaining, slightly addictive, and full of creative surprises. More than once I forsook other activities to get back to this book.
Right from the start I was unfairly hooked by a few of my favourite flourishes: a simple, illustrated map of the campground at the centre of the story followed by a cast of characters and their relationships to each other. Tick, tick, tick, it was old school, and I was there for it.
Richell is a marvellously sneaky woman. Despite an intriguing prologue, I still hit page 35 knowing something bad had happened but not knowing what that thing was. A third of the way through I was slamming my hand against my forehead after realising the contentious tragedy propelling this story was not what I thought it was. I grinned from ear to ear at the mischievousness at work – and then I accelerated my reading.
While this book certainly overflows with suspense and, for Sisters in Crime purposes, crime, The Search Party is what all the best genre books are, a meaningful and enlightening dive into a cluster of important themes, distinct from the crime or mystery at hand. This one is also an impressive example of character study.
Yes, Richell is accomplished when it comes to ratcheting up tension, doling out the red herrings and delivering an awesome sense of foreboding. She is adept at switching us between timeframes, locations, and character points of view. And her pacing is brilliant; you’re given just enough emotional expose before another plot development unfolds before you.
In this book, however, it is also parenthood that gets the deep dive, specifically the different paths people choose to take or are forced take to have a family or find one. The complicated emotions of adoption, for both parents and kids, are particularly moving and thought-provoking. She’s also sharply observant when it comes to how differently people react to parenthood, coping with its highs and lows and interpreting its responsibilities. The interpreting aspect will start many book club conversations I’d wager.
More than once I was surprised by the somewhat unfashionable and therefore refreshing insights that are either expressed by some characters or imposed on them. From the way one man looks down on another man’s decision to be a stay-at-home dad, to the way one female finds guilty pleasure in the wolf whistles of strangers, there is an honesty at play here that is striking. The relationship between the kids in the book is interesting too. As a reader I was definitely thrown back to a world where you’re forced into the company of others simply because you’re on the wrong side of 16 and you’re expected to rub along despite having nothing in common except for lack of years. I’d bet good money that Hannah Richell has done her fair share of family camping, sitting back and watching the dynamics at play. She has put me off glamping.