The Hidden Room, Stella Duffy
Stella Duffy was absent from the crime writing scene for a long time until THE HIDDEN ROOM was released in 2017. The book then made the shortlist for the 2018 Ngaio Marsh Awards, because, in a nutshell, Duffy knows how to develop strong, realistic characters, and weave them into a plot that's clever, well paced and intriguing.
Classified as "domestic noir", this is a story about things very close to home. In this case Laurie (born in China / adopted by a US family) spent her childhood in the American desert, her family members of a secretive cult. Years later, she and her wife Martha, and their three teenage children, are happily living in the British countryside in a rundown old house, with all the pressures that you expect with modern families these days - balancing work and family commitments, busy lifestyles, the demands of a house that needs constant work, and all the small stuff that everybody battles with these days.
Hidden away in the house is a special little room, literally the place from the title of the novel, a private, hidden spot that only Laurie knows about and uses as an escape. The figurative interpretation of the title is more internal - there are aspects of Laurie's past that are also hidden away, locked in her memory, that start to be revealed as that past bursts into the present.
The striking thing about THE HIDDEN ROOM is the way that the obsession with the minutia of day to day life is almost soporific, until it's not. The switching timeline between Laurie's past and the current is seamlessly delivered, never interfering with the gentle ramping up of a number of elements - threat and thriller, psychological drama and fear, against a backdrop of day to day life, and past and present clashing, as Laurie wrestles with internal and external struggles.
Cleverly constructed, THE HIDDEN ROOM works on multiple levels, ramping up the threat, wrong-footing the reader about motivations and likely outcomes, and always with a sort of low level dread of the unknown, the lurking, a presence, something hidden - somewhere.
Life is good for Laurie and Martha. They have three great kids, a much-loved home in the countryside, and after years of struggle, Laura's career as an architect is taking off at last. Everything's perfect.
Except, it isn't.
Someone is about to walk into their happy family and tear it apart.
Laurie has been hiding from him for years. The question is, now that he's found her, can she keep her family safe? And just how far will she go to protect them?