Hidden| Emma Kavanagh | 2015 | Century | 352p | Review copy | Buy the book
Charlie comes to consciousness in the midst of a scene from hell. Furniture overturned, blood everywhere, bodies fallen, her hand gripping that of a man she must cling on to, keeping him alive despite the bullets. Charlie recognises the people lying around her. Some are friends, others are just people to nod to, but they’ve all had their lives extinguished by a lone gunman who stalked this hospital and coldly fired into the crowd in its lobby and coffee bar. Charlie is a reporter. She is an excellent witness and she becomes our eyes and ears as we move backwards and forwards through the course of one very hot week in late August as she, and the gunman, try to work out what it was that blew the fuse.
The opening scene in Hidden is shocking and abrupt. It introduces us to people who have been dead for just minutes, people that we will get to know and care for as we travel back through the events of the preceding week. We can be in doubt how the novel will finish. We see its bloody denouement on the very first page but when we finally reach these scenes again at the novel’s end we are all much wiser. Because we know what’s coming and because the chapter headings tell us how many days we have left before the shooting the tension builds like a ticking bomb.
But Emma Kavanagh doesn’t give us a straightforward investigation. The novel moves around through the days chapter by chapter but also within the page. The reader is expected to have his or her wits about them. Memories and previous events are never far away from the present, they affect it and the people in the novel are continually thinking about their lives, relationships and experiences, just as we all do in reality.
Charlie is not our only perspective although its her first person, present tense narrative that holds the books together most of all. We are given another first person present tense voice and this one belongs to the shooter. The other perspectives are in the third person, past tense and give us the viewpoints of psychologist Imogen and Aden, a police fire arms officer. All of these strings illuminate the others. The same people appear in them all (bar the shooter’s – he’s keeping things under wraps for now) and our understanding of their relationships grows as we see them in such a range of lights. All the time, the reader watches out for clues, trying to work out the identity of the shooter – I had a couple of suspects but I didn’t get it right.
Largely moving between the hospital, the newspaper office and the police station, the story is linked by a couple of strands – the death of a young nurse at the start of the week on the motorway at night and the second, longer term significance of a police shooting a year before. Emma Kavanagh uses her personal experiences (as a police and military psychologist and training firearms officer) here to good effect, treating a very difficult subject with great skill and sensitivity, not to mention pace and drama.
Hidden is Emma’s second novel and it follows an excellent debut, Falling. I enjoyed Falling very much indeed but I think Hidden is even better. It’s tense, tight and disturbing (in a good way) and clearly written by an author who knows what she’s writing about. Its structure is particularly clever and the author is to be congratulated on controlling it so well. There are a fair few psychological thrillers out there at the moment but this one most definitely deserves your attention.