Thursday, 9 February 2017

Book Review: THE HIDDEN HOURS by Sara Foster

The Hidden Hours

Author: Sara Foster
Simon & Schuster (Australia)
January 2017
Expected publication: 1 April 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Arabella Lane, senior executive at a children’s publisher, is found dead in the Thames on a frosty winter’s morning after the office Christmas party. No one is sure whether she jumped or was pushed. The one person who may know the truth is the newest employee at Parker & Lane – the office temp, Eleanor.

Eleanor has travelled to London to escape the repercussions of her traumatic childhood in outback Australia, but now tragedy seems to follow her wherever she goes. To her horror, she has no memory of the crucial hours leading up to Arabella’s death – memory that will either incriminate or absolve her.

As Eleanor desperately tries to remember her missing hours and uncover the events of that fateful night, her own extended family is dragged further into the dark, terrifying terrain of blame, suspicion and guilt.

Caught in a crossfire of accusations, Eleanor fears she can’t even trust herself, let alone the people around her. And soon, she’ll find herself in a race against time to find out just what happened that night – and discover just how deadly some secrets can be.

My thoughts:

After a traumatic event which has shaped her formative years, 21-year old Eleanor Brennan is trying to put the past behind her and move on with her life by leaving Australia for a year’s work experience at a successful publishing firm in London. She is shocked and dismayed when she wakes with a severe hangover after the office Christmas party to hear that one of the executives of the firm, Arabella Lane, has died overnight under suspicious circumstances. Eleanor was one of the last people seen talking to Arabella before her death, but she has little to no recollection of the night’s events. What happened in the hours between talking to Arabella at the party, and arriving drunk and dishevelled back at her uncle’s house? Eleanor is sure she only had very little alcohol – did someone spike her drinks? As the investigation into Arabella’s death continues, Eleanor becomes more and more convinced that she may have witnessed something terrible that night. Without any memory of the “missing hours”, and with the killer still at large, is she putting herself in danger? In a city full of strangers, whom can she confide in and trust?

Amnesia has long been used in psychological thrillers as a means to lead the reader on a slow journey of discovery, whilst building suspense and maintaining a sense of menace and danger to the protagonist throughout the story. I generally like the idea, as it opens the door to so many possibilities, but find that there definitely is an art to making it work. Whilst The Hidden Hours got off to a rather slow start for me, and I found it difficult initially to bond with Eleanor, the introduction of snapshots into Eleanor’s past quickly got my attention and worked well to foster understanding of how her past has influenced her present state of mind. The little clues linking the past and present worked well to keep me intrigued, even if I admit that I was much more drawn to the mystery of Eleanor’s childhood tragedy than the murder of Arabella Lane. It is obvious that Foster has an intimate understanding of the hardships faced by people in rural Australia, and does a great job in building and atmosphere of impending doom for the child Elly. Some small hints sowed seeds of the tragedy to come, but I was still surprised when it was revealed, and felt an intense sense of empathy and sadness for the young girl.

 I also liked the sense of isolation Eleanor experiences as a visitor staying at her maternal uncle’s house, and the growing sense of isolation and dread as suspicion about Eleanor’s involvement into the events leading up to Arabella’s death mounts. There was real potential to exploit this isolation to build more suspense and tension as Eleanor’s back is against the wall with no one to support her, which was not quite fully realised for me. Adult Eleanor appears a bit “bland” and timid at times, slowing the story down. I would have liked to see her endowed with a few more flaws, character quirks and spunk to make her more engaging and memorable.

Whilst the novel got off to a slow start for me and I struggled with the first few chapters, it soon gained momentum and managed to keep my interest. The mystery concerning Eleanor’s past was intriguing, and the end contained enough revelations and surprises to make the journey worthwhile. However, I felt that there was not quite enough suspense to market the novel as a “psychological thriller”, and lovers of that genre may find it a bit lacking in tension and “thrill” elements.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

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