My Book Reviews for March 2024 

My Book Reviews for March 2024 

My Book Reviews for March 2024 comprise a suspenseful crime thriller by Simon Lelic and several NetGalley titles, including a ghostly thriller by Simone St James and the first of a new series by Michael Wood.

The Search Party by Simon Lelic

Sadie Saunders has been missing for several days. Police have mounted a huge hunt and are dredging the river. Her friends decide to make their own search of the woods with disastrous consequences.

I’m convinced I have to read the right book at the right time. When The Search Party was due to be published in 2020, I ordered it unseen based on the blurb. But when it dropped into my Kindle on publication day, I quickly became disheartened. The first chapter had a teenage character addressing her story to a ‘you’ audience. I’ve never been a fan of second-person narration so I gave up.

However, nearly four years later, I picked it up again and everything clicked. The teenager of the first chapter was in a police interview answering questions from an unseen police officer. Rather than annoying, it was clever. The story really hooked me when the unseen detective moved centre page in his own chapters and I became acquainted with DI Fleet, the police force’s best missing persons’ investigator. But Fleet doesn’t just bring his diligence and experience to the Sadie Saunders’ case, he also carries the traumatic baggage of having to investigate in his home town. He quit the place some twenty years earlier after what happened to his little sister. His investigation and backstory weave around chapters of interviews with each of Sadie’s friends, the participants in the ill-fated search party.

I ending up loving this story. The last time I had a complete about-turn on a novel, it was The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor. She has since become one of my favourite authors. Similarly, I’m now headed to Simon Lelic’s back catalogue with a very good feeling indeed.


My Book Reviews for March 2024 include a bumper crop of NetGalley gems and I thank the authors, publishers and NetGalley for the opportunity to read the following early copies in exchange for independent reviews.


Murder Road by Simone St James

After a whirlwind romance, April and Eddie marry and drive off to a lakeside park for their honeymoon. But they take the wrong turning off the motorway and find themselves lost in the middle of nowhere. A young woman appears on the lonely, dark road. They offer her a lift but when she gets into the backseat they realise she’s been stabbed. She directs them to the nearest hospital but dies shortly after they get there. April and Eddie find themselves arrested on suspicion not only of this murder but also of killing several hitchhikers along the same road. The attacks go back years to when the couple were young children, so they can’t be responsible for them all.

And yet Eddie and April have secrets, not only things they withhold from the police but also from each other. Why was Eddie discharged from the army? And why hasn’t April told her husband that April isn’t her real name?

As the couple do some digging to find the real culprit, they encounter a vengeful, unquiet ghost who haunts the road. They realise proving their innocence will require cold, sceptical local detectives to suspend their considerable disbelief.

April made a determined, likeable narrator and Eddie, too, was a strong, yet vulnerable lead. The supporting characters were well drawn. My absolute favourite was Rose, their reluctant landlady at the guesthouse the police put them in. (And Trish, if you’re reading this, go see a neurologist…)

Simone St James writes terrific ghost stories, some with the feel of historical fiction (such as Silence for the Dead), some set in the more recent past (The Sun Down Motel) and others that blend the distant with the recent (The Broken Girls). Murder Road has a more modern feel, although it’s set in the mid-90s. (It startles me to realise a decade that seems five minutes ago is now some 30 years in the past.) I would guess the author chose that time rather than present day so that the protagonists couldn’t solve the mystery with a couple of internet searches. Instead they had to visit remote locations, track down witnesses, engage with conspiracy theorists and scour old newspapers. It was refreshing to read a mystery that had a contemporary feel but without references to mobile phones and social media.

As usual Simone St James built up tension beautifully and blended the otherworldly with the gritty real world seamlessly.


The Mind of a Murderer by Michael Wood

As the title suggests, the story features a battle of wills between a serial killer and a forensic profiler. Fans of the author’s Matilda Darke series will enjoy getting to know Dr Olivia Winter in a new series written in typical Michael Wood style: gruesome murders; straightforward storytelling; and a plot that plays fast and loose with the lives of the investigating team. The author is onto another sure-fire winner. It will do well.

And I’m pleased to say Michael will be bringing The Mind of a Murderer to my Front Page Fridays feature in a few weeks’ time.


The Warm Hand of Ghosts by Katherine Arden

A well-researched and eloquently told story of the trauma of World War One, both for those in the trenches and those who care for and about them.

Perhaps because I’d previously come across the theme of Tommies selling their souls to the Devil to escape the battlefields, I wasn’t intrigued by the allegorical interludes with Farlad and felt the novel was strong enough to stand up well without them. The parts of The Warm Hands of Ghosts that interested me the most were the relationship between British Freddie Iven and German Hans Winter in no-man’s-land, the experiences of Laura and Penelope searching for their menfolk in Belgium and the action-led last quarter of the story.


Day One by Abigail Dean

This book explores the role of conspiracy theorists in true crime. Ideal for fans of complex character studies, told across various timelines and from multiple viewpoints, and presented as a very slowburn thriller.


The Book of Love by Kelly Link

Three teenagers are missing, presumed dead. A year later, Mr Anabin, their former music teacher, resurrects them so they can investigate how they died and then return to life. All now have magical powers. An interesting premise and, as the gorgeous cover suggests, it’s perfect for fans of full-on, psychedelic fantasy.


Listen for the Lie by Amy Tintera

Lucy has no memory of murdering her best friend, but most people believe that’s what she did. Five years on, the unproven case still hangs over her and comes back into the spotlight when a podcaster conducts his own investigation.  Ideal for fans of mystery and suspense with a chick-lit, jocular narrator.


My Writing News

My publishers, Hobeck Books, revealed the stunning covers for the first two books in my Gloucestershire Crime Series. The first book, Her Deadly Friend, is relaunched on 23 April, and the second book, Her Charming Man, will be published on 14 May.

Both books can be pre-ordered now. Ebooks from Amazon; paperbacks from Hobeck Books – Her Deadly Friend; Her Charming Man.


Front Page Fridays

As well as posting my book reviews for March 2024, I’m continuing with my new blog feature Front Page Fridays, where I showcase the opening page of newly published books that have caught my eye. The most recent book in the spotlight was Never Forgive You by Hilly Barmby. Tomorrow’s post will feature The Mists of Pencarrack Moor by Terri Nixon.

By Rachel Sargeant

Rachel Sargeant is a British author. She writes the Gloucestershire Crime Series, published by Hobeck Books. The first title is Her Deadly Friend, and the second is Her Charming Man. Her titles with HarperCollins are: The Roommates, a psychological thriller set in a university during freshers' week; The Good Teacher, a detective mystery, featuring DC Pippa “Agatha” Adams, and The Perfect Neighbours, a psychological thriller set in Germany. Rachel studied at Aberystwyth University, spent several years living in Germany and now lives in Gloucestershire with her family. She holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham.

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