Audiobook Review: The Hiding Place by David Bell

1 11 2012

The Hiding Place by David Bell

Read by Fred Lehne

Penguin Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 40 Min

Genre: Mystery

Quick Thoughts: The Hiding Place proved to me that David Bell may be one of the best writer’s today at showing the affects of violent crime on families. While the novel is well plotted, and the mystery well conceived, it’s his realistic yet engaging characters that really make this novel stand out in a crowded genre.

Grade: A-

I have read or listened to a lot of mysteries in my life. I have always liked detective stories, whether it’s some Belgium know-it-all, a gruff alcoholic cop or nosy amateur sleuth, the process of discovering a murderer is always fascinating to me. Yet, for the most part, these stories are about the detectives, and rarely about the victims of violent crime, particularly, those left behind to pick up the pieces. Often times, in detective novels, families serve strict purposes, information, possible suspects and motivation. Yet, when these purposes are unneeded the family gets pushed to the side, and when the case is finally solved, the family is forgotten for the next mystery. Whenever I think about just how families are affected by violent crimes I remember the Season 2 Episode of Homicide: Life On the Streets called "Bop Gun" where Robin Williams played a man whose wife was murdered before his eyes. It followed his story from the crime, through the process of the investigation. There is one scene in particular that has always stood out to me. In this scene, Williams is talking about how he can just tell by looking at people if they have been affected by violent crime, going on to point out people who have. It’s was quite a different look at crime than you would typically see on television and a moment that has stuck with me for years. The Hiding Place is David Bell’s second novel, and after his excellent debut in Cemetery Girl which gave us a look at a family ripped apart by a child’s abduction, I had high hopes for this novel.

25 years ago, Janet Manning’s brother was killed in the park, while she was supposed to be watching him. Now, on the anniversary of Justin‘s murder, the man convicted of his murder is out on parole, and Janet is still unsure of exactly what happened that day. When an old friend and an odd stranger show up, questioning what really happened, Janet, her family and the detective who solved the case are forced to revisit the day that changed them all. While The Hiding Place is a mystery, and a pretty solid one at that, where it stands out is in its depiction of the affects one crime had on a family and community. The affects of the murder of Justin Manning ripple down through three generations of Janet’s family, each struggling with their own questions, and attempting to deal with their secrets. Bell never force feeds the readers with melodramatic portrayals of how the murder of a child affected this people, but allowed the tragedy to linger around the edges of all the characters like an ever present ghost. The story is full of mood, giving intricate and intimate looks at each of the major players. It is done so well, that the mystery behind the killing almost becomes subtext and that when the ending comes, it makes the shock and betrayal that much more effective. To be honest, The Hiding Place, as a mystery, took me by surprise. I don’t mean to say I was surprised by the ending, which I was, but that at some point in the novel I had written off the mystery. I was so invested in the book and the characters, that, despite a perpetual mood of suspense, I felt like the book worked even without the mystery. If the major reveal was that everything was just as Janet originally believed, I would have been, OK, that works. Yet, when everything fell into place, it made the entire experience even better. The Hiding Place proved to me that David Bell may be one of the best writer’s today at showing the affects of violent crime on families. While the novel is well plotted, and the mystery well conceived, it’s his realistic yet engaging characters that really make this novel stand out in a crowded genre.

While I really liked Fred Lehne’s performance in Cemetery Girl, I felt his reading of The Hiding Place was simply OK. There were some weird moments, some character voices that just didn’t fit for me, and felt inconsistent at times, particularly his portrayal of Janet’s father. While the point of views were pretty evenly split between genres, part of me thinks the book would have benefited from having a female narrator instead. I think the most important moments of the novel came when Janet and her daughter Ashleigh where the point of view characters, and while Lehne’s characterizations of these characters weren’t bad, I think the right female narrator would have been better at capturing the depths of the turmoil and emotions they were dealing with. Overall, the performance was solid and the audiobook was an enjoyable listen, I just feel it could have been even better with another choice.

Note: Thanks to Penguin Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

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