book review: The Hiding Place by C.J. Tudor

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THE HIDING PLACE by C.J. Tudor
(UK title: THE TAKING OF ANNIE THORNE)
★★☆☆☆
Crown, February 5, 2019

I was all over the place with this book. It was at times gripping, laughable, chilling, confusing, and dull, so I’m not having the easiest time gathering my thoughts and deciding on a rating.

To be honest I’m not exactly sure what the main mystery here was supposed to be so I’ll spare you from too many plot details, but basically, when Joe Thorne was a teenager his sister Annie died, following a period where she went missing for 48 hours before turning up again. Now Joe is a teacher at his old school and he has reason to believe that whatever happened to Annie is happening again. That doesn’t give you a good sense of just how convoluted this was, but I guess that’s the gist.

So that’s criticism number one: there are too many plot threads. Half of them are unnecessary and half of them are left unresolved. There’s also a supernatural element that is only halfheartedly integrated into the story, and the lack of answers we receive about this felt to me like Tudor didn’t have any of the answers herself and fell back on the lazy excuse of ‘well it’s supernatural, I don’t need to explain it.’ Since so much went unexplained, the ending was all kinds of anticlimactic, and the ‘final showdown,’ if we can call it that, was probably one of the worst thriller scenes I’ve ever read. But hey, at least Joe has no illusions to the contrary about what kind of book he’s in. “And then, feeling very much like a character in a bad thriller, I say: ‘I think we should talk.'”

And that’s another problem, the desperate attempts to overcompensate for dull moments with humor that doesn’t land. In the first half of this book in particular you could hardly go a page without cringing due to something like this:

“Never go back. That’s what people always tell you. Things will have changed. They won’t be the way you remembered. Leave the past in the past. Of course, the last one is easier said than done. The past has a habit of repeating on you. Like bad curry.”

… which was frustrating when the strongest thing about this book is its atmosphere. When your book manages to be as creepy and downright terrifying as this one can be at times, you shouldn’t sacrifice the tone for these silly throwaway lines. And the thing is, this book was properly brilliant at times. Certain scenes, particularly the flashbacks, were tense and vivid and gripping, and I had plenty of moments of not being able to put this book down because I needed to know what happened next. So in that way, it was one of the more fun reading experiences I’ve had recently. Unfortunately I was rewarded for racing through it with an altogether terrible ending.

So on the whole, where this is good, I actually think it’s better than The Chalk Man. Where it’s bad, it’s worse by far. The Hiding Place is certainly more ambitious, but The Chalk Man is more consistent. (I’ve also seen many reviews comment on the transparent similarity to Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, but as I haven’t read any King myself I can’t personally comment on that – I just wanted to mention it for everyone else’s consideration.)

Thank you to Netgalley and Crown for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.