The Search Party, Hannah Richell’s first foray into the suspense genre, is still jam-packed with contemporary drama. Read our review and book club questions.
Publication: Simon and Schuster, January 2024
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Crime
The Search Party Book Synopsis
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.
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This is the first title I have read from Hannah Richell. Initially, I was intrigued by her publicised transition from contemporary relationship and family sagas to the ‘destination thriller’ genre, as this title is billed. But what really earned The Search Party a spot on my reading pile was the mention of multiple narrative perspectives and the locked-room mystery elements; some of my favourite literary constructs.
Firstly, let’s address a subtle but, I think, important distinction. While The Search Party contains evocatively depicted tension and suspense-filled scenes, it is not a ‘thriller’ from a reader’s perspective. I did not experience any gut punch or heart-in-my-mouth moments. This largely comes down to the storytelling beginning at the ending, albeit opaquely, and then the audience judiciously being shown puzzle-piece character perspectives of the events leading up to that via police interviews and discussion around those. It still made for page-turning reading though, as time spent viewing events from single-character perspectives are brief and alternate frequently. The time shifts are clearly signposted too.
Secondly, do not be alarmed by the character listing at the front of this novel. I certainly did not need to refer to it. The number of characters that are ultimately gathered in this remote location is relatively large, sure. But, their naming and how Richell introduces them to the reader make their relationships simple to understand and recall. Plus, a few are only thinly characterised; bit-players that are more like chessboard pieces or communication conduits in this locked-room mystery.
For me, the most well-developed character in The Search Party is actually the wild and isolated setting, awe-inspiring one minute and terrifying the next. It beautifully underscores one of the recurring themes in this novel — society’s propensity to misunderstand, fear and demonise the unfamiliar.
So, is Hannah Richell’s The Search Party a thriller? No. Is it a suspense-filled, thought-provoking story tailor-made for book club discussion? Absolutely. This is a well-executed mystery novel and accessible family and relationship drama tackling situations and subjects that all readers are likely to have opinions on.
Book Club Discussion Questions
- Have you considered a career or lifestyle change? What sparked that thinking?
- Is the setting of this novel a place you would choose to live?
- Do you still regularly see friends you met at school, college or university?
- What do you think is more likely to spell the end of a long-term friend group: (1) people do not like someone’s new partner, (2) a longstanding couple breaks up, or (3) a difference of opinion on parenting styles?
- Is it ever okay for an adult to physically injure a child?
- Would you consider adopting a child with a troubled past?
- Did you enjoy how events in The Search Party were conveyed from multiple perspectives? Which character’s narrative did you most engage with?
- How convincing did you find Hannah Richell’s red herrings. At what point had you figured out what had led to a person being hospitalised?
- Several people have kept secrets in this novel. Which, if any, of these secrets do you think are okay to keep?
More The Search Party reviews
“Richell has written a standout page-turner, thoroughly gripping from start to finish. Fans of Lucy Foley and Sarah Pearse will not want to miss this.” – Anna Downes, author of The Safe Place
“Richell’s fifth novel cleverly plants numerous red herrings and skillfully juggles the multiple points of view and timelines to build white-knuckled suspense and keep readers guessing.” – Kirkus Reviews
“While the book’s Rashomon structure is hardly original, Richell utilizes it well, providing her large cast with distinct voices and insights. It’s a diverting puzzle.” – Publisher’s Weekly
“Haunting and atmospheric from the very first page, The Search Party is an irresistible read. Simmering tensions, family drama, and high-stakes mysteries combine to create the perfect storm of bingeworthy suspense.” – Megan Collins, author of Thicker Than Water and The Family Plot
About the Book Author, Hannah Richell
Hannah Richell was born in Kent and spent her childhood years in Buckinghamshire and Canada. After graduating from the University of Nottingham, she worked in the book publishing and film industries in both London and Sydney. She is a dual citizen of Great Britain and Australia, and currently lives in the South West of England with her family. Richell is the author of international bestsellers Secrets of the Tides (2012), The Shadow Year (2014), The Peacock Summer (2019) and The River Home (2020). Her work has been translated into twenty-one languages.
* My receiving a pre-publication digital copy of The Search Party from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions.