Emma Kavanagh has written a gripping psychological thriller in Hidden. I haven’t read her first novel Fallen, but I might have to having read this. It’s one of the perils of being a book reviewer: a publisher let’s you have an advance of a new novel, only for you to discover an author you had never read before, with a canon of work to their name. You now find yourself compelled to catch up on their earlier work, cue lots of purchases on Amazon and an ever-lengthening To Read List.
But I digress, back to Hidden. The novel revolves around an unidentified gunman stalking a local hospital. The local community, patients, their relatives, the hospital staff, are all left fearful. One of the strengths of the book is just how well the author gets across this atmosphere of restrained tension. There’s a real Britishness about how nobody wants to make a fuss, everyone stoically attempting to get on with things. But of course they can never quite escape the palpable air of menace.
To this backdrop we are introduced to a broad set of characters, many not entirely sympathetic, a few quite loathsome. Some are related to each other, others friends or work colleagues, but they’re all products of the local community and another strength of the book is how the author conveys a sense of small town life, how everyone knows everyone else or is one degree of separation away.
In some ways this novel was almost a family drama, the narrative focusing more on the tensions between the characters’ lives than the stalking gunman. In fact the stress of their situation draws these tensions into sharp relief and it’s not long until we’re getting a glimpse behind the curtain, the dirty washing if you will, the skeletons in people’s cupboards revealed to the reader in all their unedifying glory.
The author does a good job of setting up red herrings as to the identity of the gunman and twice I thought I knew who it was only to be proven completely wrong. The downside of this is that when the true antagonist was revealed, I felt that not quite enough had been done to prepare their backstory so that I would be convinced of their motivation. But this is a relatively minor quibble.
The only other issue I have is once again a small one. Whenever the author wants to get across that a character is feeling nervous or upset, she has their stomach lurch in some way. The result is that all the characters end up feeling anxiety in a curiously uniform manner. I lost count of the amount of stomach turns, somersaults, lurches and other variations that were described. Again this is a minor point and in no way spoiled the enjoyment of the novel for me but I did find myself noticing it.
Overall this is an accomplished novel that keeps you guessing until the end and I have no hesitation in recommending it.
I would give this 5 out of 5 stars