Book Review: Nicci French’s missing mum mystery is compelling but ultimately underwhelms

Has Anyone Seen Charlotte Salter?

Crime writing duo, Nicci French (a.k.a. husband and wife team Nicci Gerrard and Sean French) returned with a new detective series earlier this year. The first offering, Has Anyone Seen Charlotte Salter? is set to be the first in the Maud O’Connor detective series. Though curiously, the eponymous heroine does not actually appear until the latter third of the book. Best known for their series of novels following psychotherapist, Freida Klein, the pair are prolific within the crime and mystery genre, both as a writing duo and separately.

Charlotte Salter begins on the night of Alec Salter’s fiftieth birthday party in 1990, when his wife Charlotte fails to show up for the celebrations. While Alec fobs off his wife’s non-attendance, her daughter Etty, in particular is concerned, and as the night goes on, her three older brothers, Ollie, Paul and Niall begin to worry too.

After Charlotte remains missing in the days that follow and a distinctive coat is found in the river, the residents of the small town where the Salters live begin to suspect foul play. When another member of the community appears to commit suicide a few weeks later, the local police think they may have solved the case. But they are wrong.

In the present day, townspeople connected with both cases decide to start a podcast investigating the disappearance of Chalotte Salter, and they may just force the murderer out of hiding.

Has Anyone Seen Charlotte Salter? is a fast-paced and compelling mystery, which, while it depicts a number of violent crimes, is neither too gratuitous or gory in its descriptions. Amateur sleuths, however, might find themselves frustrated, as I was, by the solution to this particular puzzle, as it does not feel particularly clever or well sign-posted. This is frustrating, particularly as the topic of violence against women is so prevalent in today’s media. So it feels like an opportunity to make a powerful point well and truly missed.

There isn’t really any one through-character to follow from one part of the book to the next, and the introduction of Maud O’Connor, the London Detective Inspector, so late in the game felt like an unusual choice. Although it may not have bothered me so much if I hadn’t been thinking of the book as the beginning of a series. But, once she does finally grace us with her presence, Maud is tough and smart, and I loved the way she frequently put the ‘boy’s club’ at the local station in their place, choosing to bring in her pregnant sidekick, Carrie, to help her out rather than put up with the constant roadblocks jealous and sexist local cops keep putting in her way.

This is the kind of book that is perfect for racing through on a rainy day, as these writers know how to end each chapter on a hook to keep a reader engaged. However, I fear that the more you think about the plotting of this one, the less and less satisfying it feels.

Seasoned crime connoisseurs will probably find themselves a little disappointed.


Has Anyone Seen Charlotte Salter? by Nicci French is available now from Simon & Schuster Australia. Grab yourself a copy from Booktopia HERE.

Emily Paull

Emily Paull is a former bookseller, and now works as a librarian. Her debut book, Well-Behaved Women, was released by Margaret River Press in 2019.