Thursday, November 02, 2017

Book Review: HIDE AND SEEK

Title: Hide and Seek (Helen Grace #6)
Author: MJ Arlidge
Publisher: Berkley Books
Pages: 416
My GoodReads Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐

Hide and Seek takes us forward on a story arc that began with Little Boy Blue (Helen Grace #5). At the end of that book, we saw Helen Grace in prison, awaiting trial for the brutal sexual assaults and murders of three people. The murders were done by Robert Stonehill, her nephew, who framed her for the crimes. Helen was aware that Robert was the killer but was unable to prove her innocence.

In Hide and Seek, we go inside Holloway Prison, where Helen is awaiting trial. As a former police officer who put many of the inmates behind bars, Helen is especially hated in the prison. She suffers petty insults and violence and is assigned to clean toilets, showers and medical waste.

When Leah, a convict serving time for killing a pregnant woman, is found murdered, her body mutilated, it sends shock waves throughout Holloway.

While everyone thinks that Leah’s death and mutilation are prison justice, Helen feels that it is a ritual killing, and that there is a message. The strongest signals in prison were those without words.

Helen knows that in order to stay alive in prison, a place where you’ve got to have eyes in the back of your head, she must get to the bottom of things, find the killer or be killed. But finding a murderer in a sea of deeply damaged women won’t be easy.

Following Helen’s imprisonment, Detective Joanne Sanderson was appointed by Superintendent Jonathan Gardam to take over the department. Gardam, for reasons of his own, is especially keen that Helen pay the penalty for her crimes and is determined to quash any attempt to reopen Helen’s case. Charlie Brooks is the only officer who believes in Helen’s innocence. Charlie puts her job on the line, looking for Stonehill.

Meanwhile, Emilia Garanita, whose scoops helped nail Helen in the last book, is still gunning for her. The kind of journalist who would happily eschew morals for a scoop, she is now playing for high stakes. What complicates matters for Helen is that somebody inside Holloway is helping Garanita.

The mystery of Leah’s death is still unresolved, when another prisoner, Jordi, is killed in the same manner. Her murder is followed by that of Lucy, a transgender male, who has always protested being housed in the women’s prison. 

The multiple murders create a sense of panic and fear in the prison. Before long there is a full-scale riot. All hell literally breaks loose, and Helen has to find the killer before Emilia outside creates a fake story implicating her for these murders too.

Will Helen find the killer? And will Charlie manage to nab Stonehill or will she be fired for her pains?

Those are the questions that the gritty and hard narrative leads us to ask.

Holloway is a place where danger was only a heartbeat away. Life in the prison, we can see, is horrible. We see this through the behavior of the prison officers, especially Cameron Campbell, who is brutal and sadistic, through the treatment meted out to the prisoners, the infestation of reptiles and insects in the cells, the constant physical and mental abuses that vulnerable inmates suffer. Sarah Bradshaw and Mark Robins are other prison officers.

Prisoners also suffer abuses at the hands of fellow prisoners. The narrative of the violence, physical and otherwise, makes for painful reading.

The story is written in the third person past tense omniscient point of view. The language is stark, crisp, pacy. The chapters are short, 3½ pages max, and move fast between the characters, ratcheting up the tension.

We get caught up in the story. Before long, we find ourselves drawing up our own list of suspects, which includes almost everyone. After all, Stonehill, we know, is a killer. Celia, the prison governor, is addicted to alcohol. Leah was pregnant, so the father of her child is also a suspect. The prison inmates all have a history of violence.

The author’s skill in describing action helps us to feel a great sense of involvement. The scenes of the clash between Stonehill and Brooks are well described. As is the description of the riot in the prison. However, the description of the mutilation is gruesome and disturbing.

The author has done a great job with the characterization. We get to know the different kinds of people who have the power to influence a prisoner’s life. They are the police head, the governor of the prison, the prisoners who secure influence over others in prison, either through violence, or through money, or the sale and supply of drugs, and even the unscrupulous journalist, Garanita.

We come to know the various characters that people the women’s jail, and the angst that each of them suffers, the sordid lives they have led. Through these characters we come to know of the lack of privacy, the hostility and the appalling conditions suffered by people inside.

Amid these suffering prisoners is Andrew Holmes, the chaplain, who tells us that In prison it is the hope that kills you, not the despair.

While these characters are important, I did feel that there were altogether too many characters in this book. The author should have limited the numbers of characters that deserved their own chapters. For example, Leah’s five-year-old twin sons, Dylan and Caleb, have their own chapter. As do the daughters of Jordi. 

While their lives are important, they have no bearing on the story of Helen which is the mainstay of the book. Also, their stories begin and end abruptly, leaving us unable to make a lasting connection. But they do serve to remind us that It was always the families that suffered the most.

In the tradition of thriller fiction, Helen eschews common sense in favour of impetuosity, deliberately charging into the murdered woman’s cell even though she could be found at the scene of the crime.

My only grouse was that while the first half of the book was good, the book seemed to race ahead in the second part. The pace became uncomfortably fast, as if the author were rushing through things, getting them over with. If only the author hadn’t rushed us through.

(I received an ARC from First to Read).

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