Review: The Hiding Place by C.J. Tudor
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Hardcover: Crown | Audiobook: Random House Audio (February 5, 2019)
Length: Hardcover: 288 pages | Audiobook: 10 hrs and 43 mins
Narrator: Richard Armitage
As much as I loved The Chalk Man, I’m quite pleased to say that The Hiding Place was a bit of a departure from the author’s debut, in a couple of amazing ways. First, I felt that it was much darker and creepier (always a plus), and second, I also greatly enjoyed the touch of the supernatural. Since C.J. Tudor’s previous novel was a straight-up suspense-thriller, this fantastical element might turn out to be a deal breaker for some, but as a speculative fiction reader by nature and habit, I welcomed it with open arms.
The story follows Joe Thorne, a middle-aged school teacher who returns to his home town of Arnhill in order to settle an old score. It’s not what he wants—but it is what he must do. After hearing about a shocking murder-suicide involving a mother who brutally killed her teenage son before shooting herself, Joe fears what happened to him all those years ago is happening again. So he gets a job at the high school he used to attend, replacing the very same woman who committed the crime, and also starts renting an abandoned and dilapidated cottage in town, living in the very same house where the horror took place. All these decisions are calculated moves on Joe’s part. He has a plan, and it requires integrating himself back into the community so that he can track down a few old “friends” still living in Arnhill—those who were there on that day so long ago, when something terrible and strange happened to Joe’s beloved younger sister Annie.
But Joe has plenty of secrets he’s hiding too. His gambling problems have made him some dangerous enemies since leaving Arnhill, and they’ve followed him home to join the ghosts of his past in haunting him. As expected, his return has not been met with overwhelming enthusiasm either. Joe hung out with the wrong crowd as a youth and did some pretty bad things. Being in Arnhill again means reconciling himself with the wretched teenager he once was, as well as confronting the truth of what happened to his little sister in that abandoned old mine where he and his gang discovered the real meaning of terror.
In a way, The Hiding Place can be seen as a redemption story for our protagonist Joe, who finally realizes he’s run from his past long enough. Sure, there are selfish reasons for returning to Arnhill, but he’s also ready to face up to the things he’s done wrong and to try to right them. Something is rotting at the heart of his home town, which could be a combination of corruption and something more uncanny or preternatural—whatever it is, it’s a vicious cycle that needs to be stopped, even if it’s already too late for Joe and his family.
Admittedly, it wasn’t until the story was well underway that I felt fully invested in it. But that’s not to say the introductory parts of this novel were slow or uninteresting, because quite the opposite is true. In fact, the opening scene is gripping both in its disturbing imagery and mysterious intensity, which sets the tone for the rest of the novel. Instead, the reason for the plot’s delayed takeoff has everything to do with how carefully and deliberately information is doled out. Joe plays all his cards close to his chest unless he absolutely has to share the details, so at the beginning, most of the story’s intrigue was driven by simply the desire to know more about him: Why is he really back in Arnhill? Why do all his old friends seem displeased with him showing up again, and what happened to cause this falling out? Why is he so evasive when it comes to certain topics in his past like his sister Annie, or the baffling circumstances behind the car accident that he was involved in when he was younger? What does any of this have to do with the gruesome murder-suicide? And what was the meaning of the puzzling message written in blood at the scene? So many questions were teased, and while they certainly kept me reading to find out more, it wasn’t until the answers started coming that I finally found myself completely drawn in.
I also continue to be impressed with C.J. Tudor’s writing. While her setup may require a bit of patience, she is a natural storyteller, with an incredible way with words. I loved the measured pacing with which she revealed information, and the way she described certain things. Ultimately, I found some of the more mundane (as in earthly) character-related drama to be less interesting than the supernatural elements (others are correct in that some of them are quite reminiscent of classic Stephen King) but in the end, that’s due to the kind of reader I am and the stories I prefer. I understand some might not like the vagueness of the details, but in this particular case, I was happy that we were left with a bit of ambiguity.
Overall, I liked The Hiding Place just as much—and in some respects, a little bit more—than The Chalk Man. I can see Tudor becoming my new go-to author for thriller-suspense mysteries, especially if I’m looking for something with a good dose of creep factor.
Audiobook Comments: In addition to the eARC, I was lucky enough to receive a listening copy of The Hiding Place audiobook narrated by award-winning voice and screen actor Richard Armitage, probably best known for his role The Hobbit. I really enjoyed this listen; I mean, if having Thorin Oakenshield read to you still isn’t enough of an appeal, his smooth mellow voice was also perfect for the role of Joe. His performance was simply captivating, an added bonus to an already engaging story. Highly recommended.