It’s such a pleasure today to share my review of Hidden, the latest book from Linda Gillard – published today as an e-book (6th February), with the paperback to follow soon. I had the immense privilege of being asked to be an early reader – and thank you to Linda, because it was the best Christmas present I could possibly have been given.
It might be that you haven’t yet discovered the author’s wonderful books – but I know there are many who would include her among their favourites, as I do. I first discovered her writing through Star Gazing back in 2008, and have since read (and loved) every book she’s written. Her books are so difficult to define by category or genre, and are all very different: but they all share complex and well-drawn characters, a deep insight into their emotions, enthralling stories wonderfully told, and a strong sense of place. Her last book, The Memory Tree, introduced her to a vast number of delighted new readers – you’ll find my review here – and I know her latest will bring exactly the same level of pleasure.
A birth. A death. Hidden for a hundred years.
“Lady, fiancé killed, will gladly marry officer totally blinded or otherwise incapacitated by the war.”
A sense of duty and a desire for a child lead celebrated artist Esme Howard to share her life and her home – 16th-century Myddleton Mote – with Captain Guy Carlyle, an officer whose face and body have been ravaged by war. But Esme knows nothing of the ugliness that lurks within Guy’s tortured mind, as he re-lives, night after night, the horrors of the trenches.
As a child grows within her, Esme fears Guy’s wrath will be turned on them both. A prisoner in her own home, she paints like one possessed, trusting that one day someone will hear her silent cries for help.
When Miranda Norton inherits Myddleton Mote and its art collection from a father she never knew, she decides to move on after the end of an unhappy marriage. Inviting her extended family to join her, Miranda sets about restoring the house and turning it into a thriving business.
When the moat is drained for repairs, a skeleton emerges with a bullet hole in its skull. Someone from Miranda’s past returns to torment her and an appalling act of vandalism reveals dark secrets, hidden for a hundred years.
This is a story told in two timeframes. There’s the near present day, as Miranda and her extended family take ownership of Myddleton Mote, hoping to escape from their own sadness and trauma, to find a home and a place where they can safely live their lives. But echoes of the past begin to surface, an unsettling feeling that the house has dark secrets that need to be revealed – and the story moves to that of Esme, a gifted artist living at the property in 1918, and the choices she makes, leading her into both danger and despair.
Something I really enjoyed about the book’s construction was that the author chose not to alternate the stories – and that would only have lessened their impact. Esme’s story in particular is one that needs continuity, to follow the steady rise in tension as her husband’s behaviour becomes increasingly extreme, the threat to her safety increases, and the atmosphere steadily thickens. And it’s really quite a story, as she uses her art as an escape from her desperate situation.
There’s an all-pervading sense of claustrophobia about her existence, quite wonderfully captured and conveyed through the writing in a way that you can feel with every fibre. The characters are just wonderful too – I did find Esme difficult to sympathise with at first, unable to identify with the reasons behind her choices, but that certainly changed dramatically as the story progressed. The portrayal of her husband Guy, with his slow descent into insanity brought about by his wartime experiences, is both believable and thoroughly shocking.
I also really loved the way the house itself became part of the story – the moat, the surroundings, the hidden features of its architecture. In the contemporary story, its unusual construction and its art collection make it attractive to visitors, as well as a refuge for Miranda and her family – in its earlier incarnation, it became a prison.
The way the secrets of the past and the central mystery are resolved had me breathless – so original, quite unexpected, the pages turning faster and faster, the ending wholly satisfying and so well handled.
Yes, this really is one of those unmissable ones – I loved every moment, and urge you to add it to your reading list without delay. Highly, highly recommended.
Praise for HIDDEN…
“An ancient moated house, a shell-shocked war hero, a female artist caught between the desire to honour her husband’s sacrifice and her own free spirit – the ingredients for a page-turning read. Linda Gillard always delivers.”
CLARE FLYNN, author of The Gamekeeper’s Wife and The Pearl of Penang
And when the paperback is available, it’ll also be an immense honour to see a quote from me on its beautiful cover…
“A powerful and atmospheric dual-time story. The way the secrets of the past and the central mystery are resolved had me breathless. So original, quite unexpected, the pages turning faster and faster, the ending wholly satisfying… Hidden is story-telling at its very best. I loved every moment.”
ANNE WILLIAMS, Being Anne book blog
About the author
Linda Gillard lives in North Lanarkshire, Scotland. She’s the author of nine novels, including Star Gazing (Piatkus), shortlisted in 2009 for Romantic Novel of the Year and The Robin Jenkins Literary Award for writing that promotes the Scottish landscape.
Linda’s fourth novel, House of Silence, became a Kindle bestseller. It was selected by Amazon as one of their Top Ten Best of 2011 in the Indie Author category.
In 2019 Amazon’s Lake Union imprint re-published The Trysting Tree as The Memory Tree, and it became a #1 Kindle bestseller.
Linda has previously been my guest on Being Anne: you can read our feature on her novels with a Scottish setting or connection here. She has an excellent website where you can find out more about the author and her writing, and a Facebook author page.