Title: Beneath the Surface
After the breakdown of her marriage, a failed career and the loss of her pregnancy, Holly returns to her hometown to work for a small-town newspaper and mourn her losses. Defeated and ashamed of her thwarted ambitions, she does not make contact with many of her old friends, keeping to herself and plugging away in her joyless job with little hope for something better to happen in her life.
She is shocked and saddened to hear of the murder/suicide of one of her former best friends at the hand of her friend’s own teenage son, unwilling to believe that the sweet little boy she knew in the past could do such a terrible thing. Reaching out to the victim’s mother Barbara, who used to be a mother figure to her in her childhood, Holly learns that Barbara also finds it impossible to believe that her grandson would be capable of such a horrific act, and begs Holly to investigate, hoping to be able to clear his name.
Beneath the Surface has been touted a “gripping suspense thriller”, which is usually something I cannot resist! Not having read any previous books by Hodge, I was also curious to explore a new author and was thrilled to have been granted a preview copy of the novel on Netgalley. Hodge’s writing drew me into the story very quickly, and I was intrigued by Holly’s damaged character and the unspeakable crime, which took up the first chapters of the book. Who would not be shocked and saddened to hear that their best friend had been murdered, especially at the hands of her own son? I could imagine the grief that rocked the whole community, and understood Holly’s desire to investigate.
However, it was after this point that things started to bug me. Despite admitting to having been a journalist working for a fluffy women’s magazine, Holly makes some vast leaps of imagination and deduction to very quickly come up with her conspiracy theory into what had caused young Dean’s descent into madness and murder, which seemed a bit far-fetched to me. For a person without any medical background, or previous experience of the field through investigative journalism, some of Holly’s convictions didn’t ring true to me. I would have preferred if more time had been spent on Holly investigating the crime and finding a lot more clues before being convinced of her (at that stage rather far-fetched) theory of what had caused Dean’s murderous rampage.
I am trying to tread carefully here, so as not to give anything away, so will only say that the author spends some time later in the book explaining her theory – and she has obviously done her research into the topic at hand – but to me it felt a bit too conspiracy-theory like all the way through. Perhaps I am just the wrong audience for this type of book, as I felt that the background conspiracy got in the way of being able to engage with the main characters, and I totally lost any emotional connection with Holly in the process. The ending also seemed rushed to me, tying all ends just a bit too neatly and quickly, and I turned the last page feeling rather let down by the whole story. There just wasn’t enough tension or mystery in it for me, and I certainly wouldn’t call it a psychological thriller, as it is pretty obvious from the start where the book is heading. The story didn’t mess with my mind nearly enough to justify the tag in the genre, in my opinion. However, I am sure that a lot of readers will enjoy the fast-paced last third of the novel, and concede that if I had known the focus of the book I would not have chosen it, as I am well aware that I am the wrong audience for this type of story.
Thank you to Netgalley and Thomas & Mercer for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.