Review: Hidden Things
I’ve been on a bit of an urban fantasy kick of late. So much of the genre is about gritty, inner city vampire staking that HIDDEN THINGS (Amazon) by Doyce Testerman registered to me as an original. HIDDEN THINGS isn’t urban fantasy so much as a modern rural fairytale. It features folkloric fantasy creatures (dragons and satyrs instead of vampires and werewolves) and tells a moral story. I found this novel approach endearing and as a result I quite liked HIDDEN THINGS despite some flaws.
Calliope’s partner has been declared dead. The police are investigating the matter and suspect foul play. Calliope knows little of the case Josh had been working but refuses to accept that he is gone for good… because she has a message on her answering machine from him that was taken two hours after his alleged demise. Now Calliope must travel to Iowa in search of answers with hopes of finding her ex-lover/best-friend/business-partner. The only clue she has is a warning, “Watch out for the hidden things.”
Iowa! Surely nothing magical happens in Iowa! What a great setting for an urban fantasy novel! I love it. This isn’t your typical, shades of gray, dreary detective story. This is a dustland fairytale, heartland noir of the Springsteen variety. And it mostly works. Because lets be honest, the genre needs a change of scenery. And with all that nothingness out there it seems completely reasonable that trolls and goblins could hide from the information age. It’s a sly use of setting and I’d love to give Testerman a high-five for taking advantage of the Mid West.
Calliope Jenkins is an almost immediately likable protagonist. How could you not be with a name like Calliope? She is one badass chick. A disagreeable and scathingly sarcastic female private investigator with confrontation issues. What’s not to love? So Calli can be a bit prickly on the outside but she’s no Amazonian on a warpath. She is very human. HIDDEN THINGS is filled with brief flashbacks that fill out the details of Calli’s past, particularly her relationship with Josh. In any other book the surplus of flashbacks could have been too much but here it works. Her’s is a sad past and Josh’s even more so. The relationship between the two of them is convincing.
Calliope’s guide and companion on her journey to the Hidden Lands is none other than a hobo demon clown. Yeah, you read that right. Vikous might just win an award for Most Sympathetic Creepy Clown in the history of literature. The relationship between Calli and Vikous starts off on rocky ground (poor, poor Vikous) but grows into an unexpected bond.
Vikous is but one example of the monsters that hide amongst us in plain sight. Much that once was is now lost, as Vikous says, “…there’s nothing magical in this world anymore – that’s the nature of the people who control it.” What magic is left is all about knowing how the world goes together, what pieces fit where, and how to rearrange it a bit. Calliope takes all the supernatural stuff like a champ. On one hand this is great. Readers don’t have to endure a lengthy denial period, rolling their eyes the whole time as the protagonist struggles to comprehend the nature of the world they really live in. On the other hand she almost seems a little too accepting given some of the awesome and terrible things she experiences.
HIDDEN THINGS is a modern day fairytale, complete with a moral message and human element that is the driving force of the story.
This leads to another of the few problems I had with HIDDEN THINGS – there’s not enough exploration of the fantastical elements. There is a Stephen King influence to this story, but a more streamlined and less pretentious Stephen King. Testerman tells a tale in 300 pages that would have taken King 1000 pages (and a completely unsatisfactory ending) to tell. And for the most part I applaud the economy of prose. The problem is that there is enough material here to fill out a much longer story and delve into some of the deeper details that are underdeveloped. Some of characters (Walker for example) and concepts need more and the story is engaging enough that Testerman could have easily pulled off extra exposition. My last complaint is that as subtly creepy and satisfying as the last chapter is, after reading the epilogue I couldn’t help but feel that Calliope hadn’t solved the case so much as come upon the answer. For a fan of detective fiction this was a bit of a bummer.
Then again, maybe HIDDEN THINGS isn’t so much about the fantastical. The human element is the driving force of the story. You could cut out the magic and still have a powerful story about maturing and relationships and change. HIDDEN THINGS is a modern day fairytale, complete with a moral message that I won’t spoil for you. I’m glad I read HIDDEN THINGS and I would like to see Testerman return to Calliope and Vikous in the future.
- Recommended Age: 15+
- Language: There is cursing, not overdone per se, but there are F-bombs
- Violence: There's a little bit but nothing gruesome
- Sex: Nope, just a little bit of innuendo