4 out of 4 stars
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Have you ever experienced that moment when you open a book, read the prologue and then feel your body relax because you can tell that you have found something rare? You know that you are about to spend hours enjoying it. This is how I felt after reading the first few pages of Hidden Depths by Ilene Birkwood. We are introduced to a woman who has evidently just dumped a body at sea, and this occurrence is described as “the familiar routine.” From the get-go, readers will want to know more about this mysterious woman. Did she murder someone? How many times has she done this, and if it is a regular routine, who is next? Is this even a real event or the imaginings of a man who has too much time on his hands?
Kelly has just returned to her cliff top New Zealand home from a work trip and steps into an unusually silent space. She expects to be reunited with her husband, Steve, but he is nowhere to be found. Initially, she thinks that he is somewhere outside working or maybe even fishing with friends or gone to get groceries, but as the hours tick by and then the days, she knows something is wrong. Her friends and neighbors are convinced that her husband has left Kelly for another woman, and the police are even considering Kelly as the cause of her husband’s disappearance. With determination and the suspicion that something more sinister has happened, Kelly follows any thread she can find and begins the quest to search for her missing husband.
Not only is the story complex and exhilarating with a slew of shocking revelations, but also the visuals that Ilene Birkwood creates with words are gorgeous and realistic. I could see the stormy New Zealand seas, the tea trees that the author describes and the cliff top homes. I could hear the ocean waves and taste the salty air. This is the kind of story I hope for when I open a book. Readers are introduced to several characters, but the protagonist is Kelly, and she is the only one we really get to know. I was okay with that because this is Kelly’s story — adjusting to the quiet New Zealand life after leaving the California rat race, searching for her husband and following any fragments of clues she can find, depending on friends for support and taking the initiative to solve puzzles herself rather than relying solely on the police.
A surprising element of this novel is the attention that it gives emotional and physical abuse and how various individuals react and adjust to it. I appreciate that the author gives readers more than just a mystery but a lesson as well. There are not many negatives to mention in this story other than that some of the paragraphs seem irrelevant to the narrative and consequently drudge on. For example, there is an instance when Kelly and her neighbor, Richard, go fishing. This fishing trip veers off track and takes up multiple pages without including anything related to the story. Admittedly, Kelly does return home from the fishing trip to find that she has missed an important call, but I do think too much time is given to the excursion. There are sections similar to this elsewhere in the novel. Having said this, the story is still superb and well crafted. Technical errors were rare — maybe a misplaced comma or two — and I did not notice any problems with spelling. The book appears to have been professionally edited, and I confidently rate it 4 out of 4 stars.
Readers will not be disappointed. I almost passed on this book because there is nothing interesting in the title and the cover, in my opinion, but the description is what made me hopeful that I would find something special once I began to read. There is some violence but nothing too gory or explicit, and although this story does involve relationships, there are not any physically intimate details. Those who enjoy feeling a sense of unease as they read will appreciate this story, and anyone who likes mystery and suspense will probably not regret giving this book a chance. If you like science fiction and fantasy, this might not be for you. With the exception of children, Hidden Depths is appropriate for all ages.
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