These Things Hidden
Some books have the ability to haunt us; to linger in our minds long after we close the cover, to make us think and question in ways we have never done before. They pull us in and don’t let us out for a long, long time. They keep us up at night, turning pages in anxiety rather than bliss. This was such a book for me.
Allison Glenn was sent to prison for a crime so hideous the other inmates wanted nothing to do with her. She has learned to glide through life, dependent only on herself and her lawyer Devin. But Allison had a whole life before she became a ghost – a life where she was a golden girl – a straight A student, soccer star, volleyball, basketball, track, and swimming star. She was pretty. She was popular. A life with a sister, Brynn, who is now the only person besides herself who knows what actually happened the night her life went completely off track – and stayed there.
When Allison is sent to a halfway house, much stays the same. Then a kind deed puts Allison on a collision course with all the people who hold pieces to the puzzle that destroyed her. The decisions she makes will once more affect the course of dozens of lives – and determine who among them won’t get to live at all.
One of the problems in reviewing mysteries is that the heart of the story lies in the author’s ability to manipulate each puzzle piece to make us desperate to get the next piece. In order for each of us to have the same experience, one of us can’t tell the others what the pieces are. So I am not going to reveal much plot here. I will say that much of the time at the beginning is spent wondering just what the heck Allison did. I had my guesses, but they weren’t quite accurate. Even when we learn what she was imprisoned for, we don’t learn the critical details for much of the book. Gudenkauf shows incredible talent in setting all this up – she reveals just enough to keep you going, hides enough that you are anxious to move forward to find out just what the heck happened and how that will affect today. The tone of the story is dark. What happened was bad. What is happening around it now feels bad as well.
So if you like your mysteries intense, know this book would fit that bill.
Another terrific ability Gudenkauf has is to create compelling characters. This is vitally important because this entire mystery is people-driven as opposed to action-driven. Each decision is like a domino – revealing something simply by knocking down the decision beside it. It works because from Claire, the bookstore owner who gives Allison a job, to Charm, the regular patron with a secret, each character is well-drawn and interesting. Each felt shockingly real – you had the frustration and anger, joys and sorrow you would feel when reacting to real people.
There was a problem with that though, and that problem lay with the main character, Allison. I had a feeling I was meant to find her sympathetic and I just couldn’t. She was so breathtakingly selfish that there were times I just wanted to reach through the pages of the book and smack her awake. It is like she is completely oblivious to the harm she does to everyone around her, as though she just can’t see that others have rights and feelings too. What makes it even more amazing is that she blames many of her problems on her parents’ indifference to her. Were they cold people? Yes. But not cruel, not abusive – just cold. It in no way gives an excuse to Allison’s behaviors. And certainly their indifference to her is far less harmful than the cold calculation she herself employs in her relationship to some around her.
The flip side to this is that the book sort of rests on Allison’s selfishness. Had Allison – or her parents – actually taken a look at Bryn, they might have noticed something going on with her. If Allison had been able to see beyond herself, she might have realized how some others felt about her and not rested on their goodwill. Had she been able to think of others, she most assuredly would have made different choices. So the selfishness works for the story, although it can make for some hard reading.
This book is gripping and intense, well-written and well-plotted. In the end, what kept this book from being an A was Allison’s minimal growth as a character. There is an apology, a bit of too little, too late – but I never felt that Allison really got what had happened that fateful night. I never felt that saw herself and her own behavior in light of what should have occurred. That kept this from being a perfect read for me. But it was still an amazing one. One that I am glad I did not miss out on and one that I am happy to recommend to anyone who enjoys intensity in their mysteries.
Buy it at Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes and Noble/Kobo