The Hidden Wife by Amanda Reynolds – a young reporter tries to get the story of a mysterious marriage
A mysterious disappearance of a young woman. A secluded designer house. A conflicted husband. A vulnerable young journalist. It all makes for a tense read, with characters and settings jumping from the page as fully realised reality. This is an atmospheric novel which maintains a relentless pace, as a young woman tries to work out why she has been chosen to be the exclusive reporter on a story which has been in and out of the public consciousness for months. As we get snippets of the police investigation, there is no real whisper of what has happened to the beautiful Julia Blake following a wedding anniversary party dominated by an argument. With reminders of Du Maurier’s “Rebecca” in my mind at least, Max Blake has requested the presence of Seren, a junior reporter at his impressive house recently remodelled by his absent wife. A wealthy and successful author of thrillers, it is a mystery why Max wants to reveal his story to a young woman who has previously written a short piece about the pain of missing people. Only Theo, editor of a struggling local newspaper, seems to have any inkling of why Seren has to venture to a house in an obscure spot to interview a man who seems reluctant to answer any questions on the record. This is a well constructed book, where the suggestion of danger, guilt and so many unanswered questions dominates a strong narrative. I was intrigued and fascinated to be given the opportunity to read and review this mystery thriller.
The book opens thirty – three hours after Julia’s disappearance, with Max at bay in his kitchen as Detective Sergeant Katie Ingles asks questions. Memorably we discover three things about Max “He looks like he hasn’t slept. He looks like a man desperate to find his missing wife. He looks like he’s lying”. The story of how Seren is asked by the infuriating and influential Theo to get the exclusive story of Julia’s disappearance is told by her; her confusion and determination. This book charts the visits made by Seren to the house and the contradictory way he greets her, at one moment affable host, the next frightening, possible guilty man. Julia is impressed, frightened and a little awed as Max’s wealth and the elusive Julia contrasts with her flat share and family who are left bereft by an ongoing sadness. There are moments where Julia is in some doubt as to her safety, and even more concerning the whole project, as she is forced to put everything on the line for her exclusive story. The presence of Miriam, personal assistant and questionable character adds to the confusion, as both Seren and Katie Ingles piece together who was at the fateful party, and the guilty secrets behind the glittering surface.
This is a mature and confidently written book, full of the chances and weather conditions that increase the tension of an already difficult situation. For Seren there is unresolved guilt, but for Max nothing is certain. There is the mundane details of daily life, mobile phones and cars. There is the star quality of a woman apparently given everything in life, but seemingly dissatisfied. The characters of Seren, who is after all a young woman, and Max, who seems to have much to hide, really work as characters against a background of jealousy, strife and expectation. I recommend this book to all those who enjoy a well paced thriller with a strong mystery, largely set in a very British, very well described house and grounds.