REVIEW: HIDDEN, BY CATHERINE MCKENZIE

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When a life is abruptly interrupted due to a sudden death, those left behind must struggle to piece together unanswered questions, while grieving for the loss.

Jeff Manning had just started walking home from work after a difficult day, focused on what had happened and blinded by the sun in his eyes, when he is struck by a car and killed.

His wife Claire learns about the accident right away, but Jeff’s colleague Tish, who lives in another city, hears nothing and wonders about the unanswered texts she has sent him. By the time she learns of his death on the following Monday, she has spent a frantic weekend wondering and worrying.

Hidden is a story about relationships, mistakes, forbidden emotional connections, and secrets that linger long afterwards. The story is narrated in alternating viewpoints, including Jeff’s, which takes us back to events that happened before his death and lends his perspective to a story that had me questioning everything. As we soon learn, in bits and pieces, there is always more to the story than what appears on the surface. And each person has a different view. The suspense builds as we try to piece it all together for ourselves.

Meanwhile, the author reveals the family dynamics in each of the households: Tish, her husband Brian, and her pre-adolescent daughter Zoe, are all struggling with issues that have nothing to do with Tish and Jeff, and they, too, are in the dark. Keeping secrets can be a very difficult thing to do under the best of circumstances, but in the aftermath of a death, emotions run high.

Claire has to deal with her son’s grief, as well as coming face-to-face with her ex-boyfriend Tim, who was also Jeff’s brother. These dynamics add another layer to the story.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story, since the writer’s style had me guessing throughout; at the end, there were still many questions and only a few answers, but I loved the journey. Definitely a five star read for me.

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LIVES UPENDED IN THE AFTERMATH OF TRAGEDY — A REVIEW

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Twenty-five years after her fifteen-year-old brother Ben supposedly murdered her mother and two sisters, Libby Day is struggling and at a point in her life when she must find a way to bring money into the coffers. The fund that sustained her after the tragedies has dried up, and Libby flails about, seeking a solution.

And what she finds is a group of individuals devoted to proving her brother was innocent–and willing to pay for mementos and information.

Libby was seven years old when the murders happened, and the only survivor. Her testimony put her brother behind bars, but now she is wondering if things happened the way she believed it did. She reexamines the “darkplaces” to figure things out. And starts meeting with people to find out more, too. She also dreams about the events, with different scenarios each time. And she recalls how life as the orphan has changed everything for her, too.

The setting is a Kansas farm in a small town filled with gossipy, mean-spirited individuals seemingly bent on shunning the Day family long before the tragedy struck.

In alternating narratives, Dark Places: A Novel takes us back to 1985, to learn bits and pieces of that fateful day from the mother, Patty Day, and from Ben, the alleged perpetrator. As more is revealed, we begin to have our own doubts…and as we follow Libby’s first-person narration in the present, watching her accumulate data, the questions begin to grow until we wonder if there will ever be any definitive answers.

All of the characters are flawed individuals, but beneath the surface of each, there is a hint of how they could be redeemed. If only…

What mysterious person did Patty Day meet that night? Why is Ben so secretive about the events, and why is he denying having a girlfriend named Diondra? What, if anything, did his friend Trey have to do with the tragic events?

Like a tornado sweeping across the flatlands, the events come full circle until finally the reader knows it all. And there were definitely some surprises. Another unputdownable read from Gillian Flynn. Five stars.