The Hiding Place by Simon Lelic

Penguin UK| 22 May 2022| 340 pages| e-book| Review copy/5*

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis:

Four friends. One murder. A game they can’t escape . . .

It was only a game.’ Until a boy went missing. ‘No one was meant to get hurt.’ But a body has been found. ‘Just some innocent fun.’ Except one of them is a killer. Ready or not, here I come.

It’s time to play hide and seek again.

My thoughts:

I’ve read two of Simon Lelic’s books previously and enjoyed both of them, but I think The Hiding Place is the best. It’s the second book featuring D I Robin Fleet and D S Nicola Collins, first seen in The Search Party.

It’s set across two timelines – 1997 when Ben Draper, a 14 year-old teenager with a troubled background, and a history of absconding from school, started at Beaconsfield, a prestigious boarding school. He is bullied, disliked and feels shunned and despised, but he does make three friends, Callum, Lance and Melissa. Longing to be accepted, he thinks they are his friends, but then he is drawn unwillingly into their plot to damage the school. After playing a game of Hide and Seek with them, that ended in terror, he went missing and his body was never found. Until, that is, in the present day, when his skeleton was found in an abandoned crypt in the school grounds – Fleet and Collins are assigned to investigate the case.

I was soon thoroughly gripped by this book as it moves between the two time periods. The detectives interview the headmaster, who seems to be more concerned about the school’s reputation than about finding out what had happened to Ben. The investigation is made more difficult as Callum is now a well-known TV celebrity and aspiring politician, which means the case is potentially a political scandal and that Fleet’s hands are tied. The detectives efforts to trace the other two pupils, Lance and Melissa are also hampered.

What emerges is a fantastic story, with many complications, red herrings and plot twists. Lelic is a terrific storyteller and writes a really compelling story that moves along at a fast pace. It is full of tension and suspense that kept me enthralled.The characterisation and the school setting, surrounded by thick woodland full of ancient trees and a graveyard, are excellent. I really like Fleet, and the way he stands up to his boss, Superintendent Burton, a yes man whose main concern is to keep the politicians happy. It examines the problems caused by loneliness and feelings of being a misfit in an unfeeling elitist education system where bullying and manipulation is largely unchecked. I was never sure how it would end, or who was responsible for Ben’s death until the final dramatic conclusion. I think it is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.

Many thanks to Penguin UK for a review copy via NetGalley.