Eleanor thinks she has escaped a childhood trauma, moving halfway across the world from rural Australia, to London, living with an uncle and his family, who are virtually strangers, and working at her aunt’s publishing house. However, within weeks of her arrival, one of her colleagues, Arabella Lane, is found dead in the river.
Eleanor knows she has had something to do with the tragedy—the dead woman’s ring is in her handbag—but there are hours missing from her memory.
Sara Foster has written a taut, teasing, well-structured whodunit, which kept me turning (swiping) pages into the night. For the first third of the novel, Eleanor becomes increasingly anxious as snippets of hazy memory return, she sleepwalks, people around her act suspiciously, and the ring disappears. She feels she cannot even trust her own family.
From the thirdway mark, backstory as to why Eleanor might find it difficult to trust family is revealed as the narrative breaks into two time lines—the present, and 2004 when the family moves to the country and lives in a shed while they build their house.
This triggered me. When I was younger, my parents bought land at Bindoon and we spent the school holidays living in a shed while we pulled lupin all day, waiting for our house to be built. I WISH those times would remain hidden in my memory.
Enough about my issues, back to Eleanor’s. Eleanor doesn’t even know if she can trust her friend Will. But when he tells her to ‘be a detective’, Eleanor begins to do a little investigating, to determine her role in what really happened to Arabella. But then the investigation hits too close to home, triggering painful memories of 2004 (I understand, Eleanor, I truly do).
Eleanor isn’t the only one investigating Arabella’s death. Besides the police, a mysterious woman called Aisha is asking some pointed questions. While the story is told from Eleanor’s point-of-view, each chapter begins with a vignette of someone who is peripherally associated with the events as they occur. Armed with this extra information, the reader is always a step ahead of Eleanor.
At first, I thought the 2004 story line obvious. But Foster employs subtle but swift plot twists, leading to a conclusion which is heartbreaking. The parallels between Eleanor’s childhood trauma and her current predicament become clear. Like the psychiatrist in the prologue seeking patterns in Eleanor’s psyche, the reader pieces together the clues, and when the perpetrator reveals themself, the reader still half-hopes they have read it wrong. Foster’s control of the narrative is strong, giving the reader the possibility that they might be wrong.
My copy courtesy of Netgalley.
Sara Foster, The Hidden Hours, Simon & Schuster Australia, 1 April 2017, pb.