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Something Hidden was rather good fun. It’s one of those novels which takes a real life mystery - one long forgotten - and warms it up as fiction. Not a million miles from Eoin McNamee’s Blue Tango in approach.


In this case, Nick Blackstock chooses a train crash in 1928 - amongst the bodies were two children who were never identified - and perhaps reheats, or perhaps invents, some of the gossip and intrigue that went on at the time.


The novel follows two parallel narratives - Jim Thornton, the driver of the train; and Ron Charteris, a cub reporter on the local paper. The narrative winds its way through the next two decades as both Charteris and Thornton feel the urge to pick at the seams and discover the truth. In all this, the whodunnit aspect is almost set aside - the question is more whathappened.


Nick Blackstock’s writing style feels a little clunky for the first few pages - it doesn’t quite lift off the page, but his plotting is taut and pacing is superb - so the reader soon finds the rhythm. Occasionally one has a nagging doubt about whether the dialogue is anachronistic - would people in the 1920s really have said those things? But again, the plot is enough to swipe these doubts to one side.


The one down side is that the ending, when it comes, is enigmatic. This is not the first novel based on true historical mystery to bring the curtain down just before the crucial moment, but it is a technique which only satisfies some readers. On the down side, there’s no closure; on the up side, the ideas and thoughts will stay with you as you try to work out what did really happen.



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