Today, I’m looking at one of my recent reads, Doyce Testerman’s debut urban fantasy Hidden Things. It wasn't the book I was expecting to read, but ended up being a book I enjoyed in a surprising kind of way.
ABOUT HIDDEN THINGS: "Watch out for the hidden things" . . . That's the last thing Calliope Jenkins's best friend says to her before ending a two a.m. phone call from Iowa, where he's working a case she knows little about. Seven hours later, she gets a visit from the police. Josh has been found dead, and foul play is suspected. Calliope is stunned. Especially since Josh left a message on her phone an hour after his body was found. Spurred by grief and suspicion, Calli heads to Iowa herself, accompanied by a stranger who claims to know something about what happened to Josh and who can-- maybe--help her get him back. But the road home is not quite the straight shot she imagined .
A SCENE I’D READ TWICE: This one is only marginally related to the main story but it was so well done that I couldn’t believe a guy had written it (apologies to male writers everywhere). In the scene, Calli has gone to the detective agency she and Josh shared—partly to feel close to him and partly to go through his files and look for clues. And who is there but Josh’s wife (Calli’s his ex-girlfriend and the two don’t get along). They get drunk and sloppy. Calli has to take a break from her binge to beat up a mysterious, hooded homeless guy (or so she thinks). But the scene is sad and funny, and it’s a realistic look at how two women who don’t like each other can almost bond over grief and booze…Or maybe I’ve just had the wrong life experiences-LOL. Anyway, it’s a great scene.
I DIDN’T QUITE BUY: It wasn’t that I didn’t buy it, but I had trouble visualizing some semi-grotesque characters such as The Fat Man. I think the physical description of him went on so long that I fixated on trying to imagine him as the author saw him instead of how I might have imagined him, and it didn’t quite translate for me. Same with a couple of other fantastical characters along the way. I think the author tried so hard to help the reader visualize the character as he did that it ended up being almost impossible to visualize in a way that made sense to me. Just never quite worked for me. It’s a minor quibble, though.
THE WORLD: I love this worldbuilding. The world of Hidden Things is revealed slowly to us, as it is revealed to Calli on her way back to Iowa—safe, bland Iowa where she felt rejected and unaccepted and swore she’d never return. Safe, bland Iowa where it's easier for the Hidden Things to stay hidden. By mid-book, it all feels very Neil Gaiman’ish to me. (Is “Gaiman’ish” a word? It should be.) It isn’t as lyrical as American Gods, but it does have that same type of surreal quality. It starts out with an urban fantasy feel but ends up with more of a contemporary fantasy twist to it, so it seems fitting that one of the authors who blurbed the book is contemporary fantasy master Charles De Lint. I'm not a huge contemp fantasy fan, and I might have not read the book had I realized it was more along that genre's style, so I'm glad I didn't know. By the time I realized I was reading contemporary fantasy, I was already sucked into the story. (Moral of that story is: don't judge an entire genre by a few Gaiman'ish books you didn't care for.)
THE CHARACTERS: Calli is a former rock singer forced to give up her dreams when her main partner in the band (Josh, who became her private investigator partner) decided to grow up and move on. So there’s an undercurrent of bitterness about her that makes her kind of prickly in the beginning and I wasn’t sure I was going to like her. But her toughness comes in handy as the world she thought she lived in gives way to the Hidden Things she can’t see (let’s just say you’ll never feel the same about a bowling alley again). I adored Vikous, the mysterious, shadowy clown-like figure who accompanies Calli on her journey to discover what happened to her partner. There’s much we don’t know about him, but he’s simultaneously creepy and intriguing. And unlike The Fat Man, we get just enough description of Vikous to imagine him in ways that work for us.
GENERAL THOUGHTS: I ended up really liking Hidden Things in a way I hadn’t expected. I’d give it a solid 4 out of 5. You can read an excerpt from the book here.
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