Written by Emma Kavanagh — 2015 is looking like the year of the psychological thriller, with a string of new novels giving crime fiction lovers a view deep into the hearts and minds of criminals and cops alike. Our latest list of Recommended books (right) includes several psychological thrillers by female British authors. Could Welsh writer Emma Kavanagh’s latest, Hidden, join them?
Hidden is plotted like the most addictive crime TV shows. It opens with a gunman wreaking havoc in a hospital canteen, before winding the clock back a week to show readers what led up to the fatal events. For the past week an armed man has been stalking the grounds of Mount Pleasant Hospital in Swansea. Firearms officer Aden McCarthy has taken it upon himself to find the gunman, while Swansea Times reporter Charlotte Solomon (Charlie to everyone except her mother) has her own reasons to find him. An old acquaintance of hers, a childhood friend she fell out with years ago, was found dead on the M4, the day after reporting the gunman at Mount Pleasant Hospital, where she works. Aden is wracked with guilt after the near-fatal shooting of a young boy in a police operation gone wrong, while Charlotte’s guilt is a result of the friendship she let slip away, and the relationships she continues to shun.
Meanwhile psychologist Imogen is trying her best to balance a fiancé who is growing increasingly distant, facing the prospect of losing his job at the Swansea Times, while at the same time supporting her twin sister Mara, whose young daughter Amy is admitted to hospital with seizures. All this presents Swansea as far a more insular city than it really is, as everyone seems to know everyone else. The tense network of relationships between the characters, as well as the episodic plotting, really drive this book forward, and the author’s drip-feed of clues as to the shooter’s identity will keep you guessing about his identity, even as we see inside his head.
It is here that Kavanagh’s training as a psychologist really shines. She has a PhD in psychology, and has previously trained the kind of firearms officers that populate this novel. But as grounded in the reality of the psyche as Hidden is, it sometimes suffers from being a little too real. While the true-to-life despairs of the characters, with their crumbling relationships and broken families, give this novel an air of believability, they also detract from its enjoyment. Parts of Hidden don’t feel like fiction, but more like the all-too-real confessions heard in a psychologist’s office. By making the character of Imogen a psychologist, Kavanagh gives us windows into the hearts of several minor characters (including some of the suspects) that are a little too transparent. In a novel that is otherwise so perfectly plotted, there are moments when it all seems too simple. One example is when Imogen feels certain that the gunman is after her personally, but chastises herself for exhibiting hubris in thinking that she is important enough to be targeted.
Moments like this thankfully only occur here and there in the novel, but it’s enough to detract from what is otherwise a solid, tense read. Hidden is another highlight among an already strong batch of psychological fiction by British authors this year.
Hidden is released on April 23rd.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars