When C. J. Tudor’s debut, The Chalk Man, was released last year, critics – including yours truly – made no qualms about comparing the work to that of Stephen King. The success of the novel and the fact that it made more than a few year-end best of lists garnered her a legion of fans ready to follow her wherever the next path led. The release of The Hiding Place will only further encourage the thesis that she is the heir apparent to the King throne and will help to build on her loyal fan-base.
The Hiding Place (released as the more appropriately-titled The Taking of Annie Thorne in the UK) once again blurs the line between mystery and horror, but in direct opposition to how The Chalk Man addresses this, the horror end of the spectrum dominates in this gripping second novel.
Joe Thorne never thought he would return to his hometown of Arnhill; the memories he left behind were just too painful. But when two recent deaths in the community stir feelings of dread within him, he knows that confronting his history is the only way to make the madness end. By falsifying his teaching credentials, he secures a job at his old high school, from which he will be able to conduct his investigation while simultaneously keeping his eye on old enemies.
Several flashback chapters clue readers in on what happened in Joe’s past. Stories of how his gang of friends sometimes crossed the line in their bullying behavior, how they discovered an abandoned mine shaft, and how Joe’s sister, Annie, disappeared (before returning under equally mysterious circumstances.)
Not to harp on the Stephen King-ness of C. J. Tudor’s work, but fans of both will certainly see similarities to his classic, Pet Sematary. This novel feels like a loving homage, without being a complete rip-off. Tudor’s strength in both novels is her ability to document horror while blending it with coming-of-age tales. Most readers will be able to relate to the unrelenting bullying depicted – whether it be from the perspective of victim or perpetrator – and this imbues the novel with a level of gravitas not often seen in traditional horror writing.
There is a mystery at the core of The Hiding Place. It is highlighted as Joe begins to realize that his youthful perceptions may not have been as accurate as he once believed. The closer he gets to the truth of that long ago time, the higher the risk factor. Astute readers will see Joe’s mistakes before he himself does and C. J. Tudor uses that knowledge to foster both tension and real dread. The ability of evil to cross generations is a theme that never seems to age and here Tudor links that with not only a truly creepy location, but also a cast of flawed characters who are relatable in ways that will cause readers to reflect on their own pasts.
C. J. Tudor’s The Hiding Place is enjoyable for any readers who enjoy both mystery and horror, but it is the core truths about humanity that continue to resonate once the cover is closed. It is that depth of understanding that will have fans clamoring for more from this talented writer.