Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve
A writer’s debut novel is always an interesting, even exciting, prospect. Jason Rekulak’s Hidden Pictures has been well received, praised by the very successful Stephen King.
Besides this intriguing title, it has a recovering drug addict, Mallory, nanny to a charming, bright four-year-old boy, Teddy. The background is luxury suburban, not far from Philadelphia, enjoyed by Caroline and Ted, Mallory’s employer. They have a quirky neighbour, Mitzi, who adds an air of unease. However, it is the pictures, supposedly drawn by Teddy, that hold centre stage in the book.
Described vividly, and reproduced in full on multiple pages, the atmosphere thus created becomes increasingly disturbing.
Sometime in the past, close by, there has been violence, possibly a murder. For little Teddy to have drawn these depictions in charcoal and black crayon is shocking and, Mallory believes, incredible. She decides that some distraught victim of these events portrayed is ‘channeling’ the little boy. Teddy steadfastly is unperturbed by the drawings.
As he continues to produce them, on a mostly daily basis, these darkly puzzling images become more disjointed. Impossible for Ted to conceive such events, as his is a carefree, screen-free life. There is a man dragging a woman, a grave, angry figures, a screaming woman. In contrast, a rabbit, an angel, a child disappearing into the distance and a hot air balloon make an increasingly confounding series.
So begins Mallory’s determination to solve the mystery. The drawing skill at times is
accomplished and obviously adult; and these pictures make Hidden Pictures a strange and unusual novel. The illustrations are essential to the plot.
Disappointingly, much time is devoted to the daily routine. Each activity, mealtime, even Quiet Time and toileting are repeatedly listed. This does emphasise the ordinary life Teddy enjoys but rather staggers the pace and is quite tedious.
Eventually, the expose is totally surprising, and its unexpectedness is a clever twist to what was previously the somewhat conventional lives of Caroline, Ted and their son.
The neatly contrived conclusion and the explanations seem hurried after the reader has endured 300 pages of a lengthy and slow development.
For some readers, the use of a supernatural spirit, Anya, will be an unfortunate negative; but there are millions of thriller lovers who support the concept of a distressed spirit seeking truth …. For them it will be enjoyed as an unusual example of the genre.
Jason Rekulak lives in Philadelphia. His previous novel, not a thriller, was very successful and translated into many languages.
Hidden Pictures is well written, with an ending that is completely unsuspected by even the seasoned reader of this kind of fiction. Disappointingly the characters are merely puppets of the plot, with no depth or individuality, stereotypes common in books like this, where of course the essential element is the narrative. Teddy is an indulged little boy, his parents emerge as people who care for their son but are inconsistent in regards to Mallory, supportive and critical by turn. Mallory is a strong young woman, aiming to maintain her integrity and strives to be a caring nanny and to discover the basis of the shocking pictures that regularly appear.
This does not alter the fact that it will surely win many fans especially those in search of a highly original tale.
by Jason Rekulak
ISBN 978 075158 371 7