THE HIDING PLACE by C.J. Tudor
Crown Publishing; 2/5/19
CBTB Rating: 5/5
The Verdict: An exceptional suspense novel from an author to watch
If my first read of 2019 is any indication, this year is going to be an outstanding one for crime fiction. In 2018, C.J. Tudor broke on to the crime fiction scene with her exceptional debut novel THE CHALK MAN; in 2019, she’s back, and she’s delivered something even better. THE HIDING PLACE is small-town noir meets dread-inducing horror—a sharp, gritty story that draws readers into a community with an almost unthinkable secret at its core. In Tudor’s expert hands, readers will enthusiastically follow wayward protagonist Joe Thorne as he returns to his childhood hometown of Arnhill: a place where the past can never truly stay buried. It’s impossible to narrow down which element of this outstanding suspense story I liked best; from its grimy, gloomy atmosphere and razor-sharp plotting to its thread of horror-inspired chills and gut-punch of a conclusion, THE HIDING PLACE is every bit a superb crime novel. C.J. Tudor has proven herself once again to be one of the most exciting, genuinely unique talents at work in the genre. It’s not every day that your first read of the year turns out to be a (very early) contender for favorite book of the year, but here we are: THE HIDING PLACE is stellar, and a 2019 standout.
Joe never wanted to come back to Arnhill. After the way things ended with his old gang--the betrayal, the suicide, the murder--and after what happened when his sister went missing, the last thing he wanted to do was return to his hometown. But Joe doesn't have a choice. Because judging by what was done to that poor Morton kid, what happened all those years ago to Joe's sister is happening again. And only Joe knows who is really at fault.
Lying his way into a teaching job at his former high school is the easy part. Facing off with former friends who are none too happy to have him back in town--while avoiding the enemies he's made in the years since--is tougher. But the hardest part of all will be returning to that abandoned mine where it all went wrong and his life changed forever, and finally confronting the shocking, horrifying truth about Arnhill, his sister, and himself. Because for Joe, the worst moment of his life wasn't the day his sister went missing.
It was the day she came back.
Some books just have it. You know what I mean—that indefinable quality that makes you ignore your phone, forget about your favorite TV shows, and spend your lunch break reading. That’s THE HIDING PLACE in a nutshell. From page one, Tudor’s devilishly clever and seriously unsettling crime novel grabs the reader by the throat, never relenting until the very last page has been turned… and maybe not even then. If there’s one thing we learned about Tudor’s writing in her excellent debut THE CHALK MAN, it’s that she is not afraid to get up close and personal with the darkness—and boy oh boy, is that true here. THE HIDING PLACE is, on so many levels, a truly dark story. From its stomach-churning opening to its dread-filled middle and jaw-dropping finale, THE HIDING PLACE exemplifies the kind of tension and suspense that only the very best crime novels succeed in delivering. But it’s not just blood and guts that Tudor uses to deliver this suspense—though there are certainly some blood and guts, too. No, Tudor relies on far more sophisticated and subtle tactics to create the bone-chilling atmosphere that drives THE HIDING PLACE forward. Readers will be tantalized by the clever hints Tudor drops about the horrible secret that lies at the heart of this book; flashbacks to protagonist Joe’s childhood and subtle clues in his present come together to create an underlying sense of menace that slowly but surely builds, drawing the reader along to the book’s genuinely horrifying conclusion. There will be hints of something otherworldly sprinkled throughout this mystery, but don’t for a second let that put you off, even if it is outside your comfort zone. In THE HIDING PLACE, Tudor masterfully weaves together a multifaceted story of psychological suspense that is terrifying precisely because of how deeply authentic every single piece of it feels, even the pieces that can’t be explained by rational thought.
Central to this exceptional story is the relationship our protagonist, Joe, has with his hometown of Arnhill. From the book’s outset, it’s clear to the reader that Joe is bending under the weight of a past trauma—and the town of Arnhill feels much the same. There’s a quasi-gothic quality to Arnhill that lends an instant air of gloom and dread to THE HIDING PLACE. With its abandoned mines looming in the background, and the social tensions and economic hardships of the mine closures still very much front of mind for the town’s residents, Arnhill feels like a town that happiness and progress forgot—the kind of place that might never feel cheery, even on a sunny day. Tudor paints an immersive picture of Arnhill that will leap straight off the page and into the reader’s imagination, providing a perfect backdrop to this bone-chilling story. So why, given the nature of this town and the traumatic memories it holds for our protagonist, would he choose to return here? Is he seeking closure? Or looking for revenge? As Joe navigates his return to Arnhill, his path crosses with both friends and enemies from his own past, and it’s these relationships - and the truths Joe learns through them - that give THE HIDING PLACE its richness and depth. Vengeance, grief, guilt, and love are at the heart of this story, and Tudor masterfully examines how these threads run through the lives of both her novel’s “good guys” and “bad guys,” giving THE HIDING PLACE a welcome dose of humanity amidst all its darkness. Arnhill may not be the cheeriest place, but readers will love every moment spent there.
No crime novel can be truly great without an intelligent puzzle at its core, and THE HIDING PLACE is nothing if not masterfully plotted. From the outset of this mystery, a number of significant facts are established. First: when Joe was a child, his younger sister Annie went missing. But that wasn’t the end of her story. Annie returned… but something about her was a bit off, and Joe’s family would never be the same again. Second: when Joe himself returns to Arnhill as an adult, he rents the only home in town that he can afford—a house in which a mother brutally murdered her own son, before committing suicide herself. These seemingly disparate events may, in fact, be more linked than both Joe and the reader initially imagined, and Tudor expertly leads us down the rabbit hole to solve this mystery. At the same time, Joe is facing additional pressure: a gambling addiction has caught up with him, and he is desperately staving off a loan shark intent on reclaiming his money by any means necessary. As these many plot threads converge, readers will find themselves riveted. Tudor is an ingenious writer, and her plotting in THE HIDING PLACE simply couldn’t have been more slyly executed. Readers will find it effortless to switch between the story’s many threads and multiple timelines, shifting from Joe’s childhood to his present-day misadventures with ease. The result? The kind of book you genuinely do want to stay up all night reading.
THE HIDING PLACE is a riveting, compulsively readable suspense novel from one of the best crime writers in the game. C.J. Tudor is an undeniable talent; her writing is razor-sharp and unflinching, and readers will be hooked on her spine-tingling sophomore novel. Shrouded in gloom and mystery, the town of Arnhill and its dark secrets will captivate and shock, delivering a story that will stick with you long after its final page has been turned. Simply put, this is one of the best books I’ve read in ages.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions my own.
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Crown (February 5, 2019)
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