The Hidden

Written by Jo Chumas
Review by Kathryn Johnson

The Hidden is an aggressive debut novel that dares to take on a complex plot set in two time periods, 1919 and 1940, which features a double mystery. We begin in 1940 by meeting Aimee Ibrahim, who has been called to her husband’s university in Cairo to retrieve his belongings following his death. Therein resides the first mystery, upon which much of the novel depends. Aimee is thrown into a plot against Egypt’s king during her search for her husband’s killer. The other mystery involves Aimee’s past, of which she knows little. Only when she has her mother’s diary in hand, written 20 years earlier, does Aimee discover her dead mother’s identity (a Sultan’s daughter and female revolutionary) and her tortured life. As time passes, she comes to realize how closely their lives mirror each other’s.

The strongest and most appealing elements of the novel are its richness of setting details and characterization. Everything about the way the characters think and how they relate to each other feels authentic. This is a stunning launch for a new fiction writer, although the novelist’s skills are still being honed. Sometimes the language verges on awkward or clichés creep in.

Nevertheless, the book is the 2013 winner of Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award in the mystery-and-thriller category, undoubtedly deserving that prize. The only real disappointment for this reader is the concluding scene of the story, which might be more satisfying without the rushed mutual confessions that seem necessary to explain all of the misunderstandings and motivation for earlier action. How much more satisfying it would be if the author had figured out a way to wrap things up more organically. Despite this, The Hidden is a solid first novel. Readers should look forward to seeing more from this talented author.