The Hidden Girl by Louise Millar
Pub. Date: August 26, 2014
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Atria!!)
Summary: Hannah Riley and her musician husband, Will, hope that a move to the countryside will provide a fresh start. Hannah is desperate for a baby, and she hopes that this new life will allow her to realize her dream of adopting a child . . . and revitalize her marriage. Yet when the worst snowstorm in years comes to Suffolk, Will is working in London and Hannah is cut off in their remote village, obsessively scrambling to turn the tumbledown manor into the perfect refuge for a child. Life in Tornley proves to be far from idyllic, however. Hannah has spent her professional life doing the right thing for other people. As she starts to uncover a terrible crime, she realizes she can no longer do that without putting everything she’s ever wanted at risk. But if Hannah does nothing, the next victim could be her . .
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Recommended For: cold Autumn nights, fans of psychological thrillers
Louise Millar is still a relatively new-to-me author, only having discovered her last year. I fell hard for Accidents Happen and knew I’d be reading more. I came across a cheap copy of The Playdate and have been saving it for a day when I need a pick-me-up (and I’m well aware that phrasing sounds odd when Millar’s books read like Law & Order episodes!). When I heard about a third novel, The Hidden Girl, you bet my ears perked up and when I sat down with it I didn’t move until it was over.
When Hannah announced she wanted to leave London for the country, Will wasn’t exactly thrilled, but went along with it. They had recently been passed over for an adoption and the rejection hit Hannah hard. She immediately walked out on a career she loved (the other couple had a stay-at-home parent) and started a search for a home (their cramped apartment couldn’t compete with the other family’s spacey yard). The house she found was certainly in need of some serious TLC, but now there’s a scheduled visit with their social worker and Hannah’s fears have taken over. Every little detail needs to be perfect. Barbara will surely pass on them again if she sees the dingy cupboards with the chipped paint. A loose floorboard? There’s no way they’d be trusted with a child!
Unsurprisingly, Hannah’s fretting has started taking a toll on Will. The commute to and from London isn’t helping matters and when he makes the decision to stay the weekend at his studio, he has no idea the effect it will have. The night he leaves the worst snowstorm in years hits the town and Hannah is all but cut off from everyone. When the heat goes out, Hannah enlists the help of a neighbor, but she soon comes to realize people in Tornley are not as friendship as they seem. People keep their secrets close in this community and these newcomers aren’t welcome one bit.
The Hidden Girl had all the drama of a tv movie and I was hooked. All alone in the middle of nowhere, Hannah struggles to ready the house as well as deal with the odd people around her. While cleaning out the attic, she discovers paintings and those, along with an old photo album, led to a delicious historical mystery and was just this side of creepy! Absolutely perfect now that Autumn has hit – I think this is the perfect time of year to curl up with a mystery, don’t you? Millar dishes out the drama in spades: family secrets are not a new phenomenon in this tiny little town!
There was also a side plot involving Hannah and Will’s marriage. Or, rather, the deterioration of it. In the beginning they were a picturesque couple; Will had once been a hard-partier, binging on booze and girls until Hannah came along. Initially she wanted nothing to do with any sort of relationship with him, his lifestyle wasn’t what she was looking for. She traveled often for her job and on one of her trips Will realized Hannah meant more to him than a bottle of beer and some nameless girl he’d never see again. He cleaned up his act and the two couldn’t have been more in love. After multiple failed attempts at starting a family, a test result delivered a shocking blow: Hannah was unable to have children. That started her talk of adoption and Will was on board. Since then, however, Hannah’s worries over every little thing have done nothing but grate on Will’s nerves. Did she really think the social worker would look at their kitchen and immediately announce them unfit for raising a child? To Hannah, a coat of paint could mean everything and Will can’t take it anymore.
I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, but Will came off as a huge jerk. While I understand his frustrations, there was nothing likable about this man. He holes himself up in his studio in London, turning off his phone & honestly not caring about the loss of power at their house. On the rare occasions Hannah is able to get in contact with him, he’s curt and short, and doesn’t seem concerned that his wife is noticing odd things. Objects are in different places than where she left them, doors left unopened, there was even an afternoon when she walked in an a living, breathing human sleeping on her floor. Instead, Will is back to his old ways, spending more time inside the local bar than out of it and when a coworker offered an extra bed for him to sleep him, he didn’t hesitate to accept her offer.
Back in Tornley, Hannah’s dealing with an..eclectic cast of characters. A nasty farmer, a sorta kinda sleezy handyman, a sweet but mentally stunted woman. There’s even a donkey. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting some of the twists and turns, but they were definitely fun! Admittedly the ending felt a little overwhelming and rushed, as though Millar had a deadline she needed to reach and tried to cram another hundred pages into thirty. A few outcomes weren’t what I was hoping for (certain characters needed put in their place and I didn’t get the satisfaction of seeing justice served here) and even felt a little sitcom-y, but overall The Hidden Girl was an exciting, fast-paced ride and I enjoyed it! It wasn’t as great as Accidents Happen and could have benefited from a little tightening, but I’d definitely recommend it to readers looking for something a little darker this season.