***Warning – potential spoilers***
As a busy mother of two, full-time substitute teacher, and small business owner I REALLY appreciate a quick and exciting read. I feel like calling the book “quick” sounds negative, but in my world it is the only way I can fit in a book that isn’t Diary of a Wimpy Kid (not that there’s anything wrong with it, but all things in moderation). What an inspiring concept – books under 150 pages for under $5. Genius!!! On top of that, the story was great, but that is what we are about to discuss.
At first, the reviews I saw gave me the impression that James Patterson compromised story quality to meet a particular story length. So, initially, I did not buy a copy. Weeks later, I was at my local coffee shop (I have a bit of a drinking problem…) where they keep a large shelf of books to buy from the local bookstore, which I find to be an inspired idea. While waiting in line for my Iced Americano I saw “Hidden” on the shelf and picked it up. After flipping through a few pages I realized I really wanted to know for sure if the quality had been compromised or not. I thought it sounded like an interesting premise, I enjoy thrillers, and I liked the quick-read format. Sold!
I took the book out with me later that day while the kids were swimming for hours. I read the entire book in one sitting. You may laugh at my shock, but I can hardly read a Tweet without some kind of interruption. So do I think the story quality was damaged for the sake of length? Absolutely not. Here’s why –
Simply put, Patterson nailed a solid story structure including the four archetypes any hero must go through. Using Jeffrey Alan Schecter’s incredible “My Story Can Beat Up Your Story” as a basis for what makes quality writing, Patterson hits every plot point a good thriller needs. The hero, Mitchum, starts the story as a truly isolated (you could say “orphaned”) man who failed to achieve his dream of becoming a Navy SEAL. Though the Navy SEAL aspect is simply a backstory tidbit as far as the main story goes, it does aid in making Mitchum a sympathetic hero facing undeserved misfortune. He’s a small town guy who volunteers as a private eye, helping out the sleepy little town whenever he can, until one day his beloved cousin, Bailey Mae, goes missing.
Being a short format story, Bailey Mae is missing from the get-go. What helps make the story so compelling, is that during the time Mitchum is searching for her, there are multiple, seemingly unconnected deaths. This propels Mitchum out of the “orphan” phase and into the “wanderer” phase where he starts to realize there is a problem but doesn’t necessarily know what to do. After he finds out his shifty, drug dealing brother, Natty, has been hanging around Bailey Mae, Mitchum shifts his way of looking at the case. He starts looking at his brother’s possible involvement.
Simultaneously, as Mitchum is searching for his cousin, other threads in his life are addressed. There is a subtle flutter of a potential romance between Mitchum and a local waitress, Mabel. Then, by investigating his brother more closely, the almost irreconcilable relationship between him and Mitchum starts to strengthen. These finer threads expose, both readers and Mitchum, to three out-of-towners that just don’t fit.
The search leads Mitchum and Natty into the barren snow-covered hills outside of town where a few abandoned cabins sit isolated from everything. Mitchum transitions out of the “wanderer” phase as he starts getting a clearer picture of what happened to Bailey Mae. As his search starts narrowing in on where she might be, he enters his “warrior” phase. He has figured out what must be done and that he is the only one that can and will get it done.
In sub-zero temperatures, Mitchum and Natty break into one of the cabins, the only one with smoke coming out of the chimney. After a scuffle with the three out-of-towners, Mitchum proves he’s neck-deep in his “warrior” phase when he says, “Come on, let’s drag them all outside.” His brother rightfully asks if he’s crazy because the bitter cold on their battered bodies and lack of warm clothes was a deadly combination. Nevertheless, sometimes heroes have to do what others can’t fathom to get the job done.
Soon, Mitchum’s tactic works and he is given the girl’s possible location, just up the hill in a cave that turns out to be a secret bunker guarded by a fearsome and violent bald man. Taking this man on is arguably when Mitchum reaches his “martyr” phase. He is risking life and limb to go deeper and farther down the rabbit hole to find the young, sweet, coffee cake making, Bailey Mae. After a hand-to-hand battle between Mitchum and the bald man (he is not given a name in the story), Natty helps his brother lock the bald man in one of the many concrete cells that line the bunker.
Being that this point in the story is page 100 out of 115 total pages, the story starts to wrap up quickly. Mitchum finds Bailey Mae scared and malnourished in the last cell. They rescue her and the dozen or so men in the other cells and head back to the cabin. The out-of-towners are still there, tied up and not happy their plans are ruined.
What happens over the last few pages hints at a possible sequel, so I can only hope the second installment in the Mitchum story picks up where this one left off – some government officials take the out-of-towners while posing more questions than answers. Mitchum and the local police he called-in are left with numerous hostages kidnapped from nearby towns for suspected terrorist affiliations. He learns how some of the murders in town during Bailey Mae’s absence happened, but not all. Given his inclination to get to the bottom of things, I’m sure Mitchum will stop at nothing to get his answers.
I definitely enjoyed this story and will be buying the future books in the series. Stay tuned for more Story Breakdown posts.