THE HIDING PLACE

I could review C. J. Tudor’s novel, The Hiding Place, in just four words. Rosemary’s Baby on Steroids. Except that wouldn’t be quite fair, because I’ve never read Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, just watched the movie many years ago. Still, I remember the tension building and building and building as the horrors of Rosemary’s Baby coalesced. And that’s exactly the feeling I got while reading The Hiding Place, an unbearable acceleration of evil that explodes and implodes on itself.

Like C. J. Tudor’s first novel, The Chalk Man, her second work of fiction also weaves the past with the present, moving seamlessly between events that echo one another. The Hiding Place begins when Joe Thorne arrives in Arnhill, a village in Nottinghamshire, where he lived with his family when he was a boy. A teacher by training, he has driven there for a job interview at the same school he attended a generation earlier. As the novel progresses, we learn mixed reasons for his return. He has lost his previous job and needs another. More pressing, however, someone has sent Joe an untraceable e-mail. “I know what happened to your sister. It’s happening again.”

As soon as Joe is hired at Arnhill Academy, he looks for a place to live. He settles in a cottage where two violent deaths recently occurred, an empty cottage the locals believe is haunted and an unrentable cottage where another Arnhill teacher killed her son and herself. Joe’s first night in the cottage proves the locals’ fears are correct, although the reader can’t be sure. Is there a logical explanation for the attendant horrors? Or is malevolent darkness to blame?

For three hundred pages, I wasn’t sure.  C. J. Tudor handles the mysteries of Arnhill without revealing all its secrets at once. Joe functions in the present, then recalls the past, encounters a number of difficulties in the present, remembers similar encounters in the past. Some of his old schoolmates still live in Arnhill, so they recur in past and present guises. Again, C. J. Tudor’s handling of the layers is subtle and deft. We learn that other schoolmates are no longer alive and that Joe’s sister died when he was a boy. Initially, though, we don’t know the circumstances of any of these deaths. We’re teased with bits of information, but unable to put together the full stories of past and present until The Hiding Place ends.

Normally I’m not fond of psycho-horror fiction. If I had realized The Hiding Place’s underlying premise, I probably would not have picked up the book. That said, let me say how much I liked this novel. C. J. Tudor creates a cast of flawed characters who are memorable and surprisingly appealing. She layers their alternating stories in ways that fascinated me. And the denouement of The Hiding Place is a gut check on reality, done with savvy and finesse. I applaud her achievement, even though the inexplicable made me cringe.   –  Ann Ronald

Also available by C. J. Tudor: The Other People; The Chalk Man; The Taking of Annie Thorne

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