Audiobook Review: The Hidden by Melanie Golding
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 5 of 5 stars
Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Paranormal
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Dreamscape Media, LLC (November 9, 2021)
Length: 12 hrs and 13 mins
Melanie Golding became an author to watch after her haunting debut Little Darlings kept me up for nights; it was so unnerving. The book was the exactly the type of mystery thriller I like to read—suspense laced with a touch of the paranormal, just enough to make you wonder. When I learned that her next novel The Hidden would also strike a similar kind of balance, I became very excited to read it, and I’m pleased to say it did not disappoint. In many ways, I might have liked it even more.
The story opens on an intriguing scene: it’s the middle of winter, on a cold dark night. A local shopkeeper at a small seaside town notices a little girl wandering around by herself and calls the authorities. Not long afterwards, a frantic woman arrives, claiming to be the child’s mother, saying that her daughter had run off on her while she wasn’t looking. Both police and social services watch on as the toddler embraces the relieved woman, looking genuinely happy to see her. Satisfied with the explanation, they decide to release the pair with just a stern warning. After all, it is a familiar enough situation—curious kids manage to get away from their distracted parents all the time.
Meanwhile, in a nearby town, DS Joanna Harper is none too pleased to be summoned to a bloody crime scene on Christmas Eve, though if she’s honest with herself, a part of her is somewhat glad for the distraction. Her personal life is a bit of a mess right now, and one way she deals with it is by throwing herself into her work, and this sure to be a case to keep her busy. A man was found in his flat lying in a bathtub bleeding out, but miraculously, he’s still alive, albeit in a deep coma. Interviewing the neighbors, Joanna finds out from one of them that there might have been a child living with the victim, even though records showed that the man lived alone. A search of the apartment turns up a few toys, however, confirming that suspicion, but then that leaves the question, where might that child be now?
The story then kind of switches tack, revealing a portion of it in flashback, going back several months to follow Ruby, a kind-hearted but naïve young woman who had just moved out to be on her own. She ends up at a quaint little apartment complex where she becomes drawn to a neighbor named Gregor who is handsome, charming, and perfect boyfriend-material—except for the fact that he still lives with his agoraphobic and mentally unstable ex and their young daughter. That’s too much baggage for Ruby, who decides to be just friends, helping Gregor care for his little girl Leonie and her mother Constance. As the weeks pass, Ruby begins to see what Gregor means. Constance seems to believe herself to be a kind of sea creature, claiming to be a part of a selkie clan, and that she can’t return to her home in the sea anymore because Gregor has her sealskin coat. Still, as crazy as it all sounds to Ruby, she can’t deny there are things that seem off about Gregor, and as she grows closer to Constance and Leonie, she also can’t help but notice the strange dynamic in the household, or the ever-present atmosphere of fear.
While the above might seem confusing or disjointed, I promise all of it will eventually make sense in the end. Admittedly, I was thrown off very early on by the flashbacks, finding it disorienting with the frequent transitions, but as the story progresses and the timelines eventually converge, following it became easier.
Also, I think it’s worth mentioning that this isn’t DC Joanna Harper’s appearance. If you’ve read Little Darlings, you might recall she was a major character, even though The Hidden doesn’t appear to be a traditional follow-up and neither does this feel like it’s shaping up to be a traditional kind of series. To be clear though, you absolutely do not have to read Little Darlings to pick up The Hidden, and quite honestly, I didn’t even make the connection with Joanna until about halfway through.
Still, I believe readers who enjoyed Little Darlings will appreciate on a deeper level this fantastic opportunity to get to know her on a more personal level as well as discover more about her home life. First, we find out early on that Joanna and Ruby are related, and in a most complicated manner. Though in truth they are mother and daughter, the two were raised as sisters since Joanna had Ruby as a young teen. Joanna’s mother, an alcoholic, made their lives growing up together very difficult, so that by the time The Hidden starts, the three women are barely speaking to each other.
Needless to say, even though the main story is a mystery, the side arcs exploring Joanna and Ruby’s relationship also gets a lot of attention, making this book a tale of family ties and hardships as well, delving into topics related to estrangement, alcoholism, emotional abuse, and mental illness. And you know what? I loved The Hidden all the more for it. As much as I enjoyed the thriller and mystery aspects, I thought the family themes gave the story much greater significance and richness.
If a thrill was what you came for though, do not fret—the final sections of the book will keep you on edge for sure. Thanks to Golding prose, which was just so tense and on point, I found my attention utterly riveted to the events playing out before me and could not stop tear myself away until the very last word.
A final shoutout also goes to the narrator of the audiobook, which I had the unbelievable pleasure and privilege to listen to. I’ve been an audiobook listener for years, and have heard incredible performances by many readers, but only a handful have ever blown me away the way Penelope Rawlins did. Many narrators read the lyrics or verses to songs in books, for example, but not Rawlins, who actually sang all the parts. And what a beautiful voice she has—clear, ringing, and haunting—bringing to life all the Celtic tunes and lullabies that were a big part of the story, and so meaningful as well because the character of Ruby is also a violinist, with music being a huge part of her life. Overall, Rawlins delivered a fantastic performance as a reader, with pitch-perfect accents and voices, making The Hidden one of the best audiobooks I’ve ever listened to.