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The Hidden Man: A Novel of Suspense Paperback – June 24, 2008
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Randall Blackburn and his adoptive son, Shane Nightingale (The Last Nightingale, 2007), return in another unconventional thriller, this time set at the1915 Pan Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. James Duncan, a famous mesmerist performing at the fair, requests the services of detective Blackburn to discover the killer in a very unusual homicide—his own. Blackburn and son ferret out the complex hidden motives and subconscious influences that drive criminal obsession and intricate deception while at the same time dealing with their own emotional issues. Duncan’s high-profile performance nearly crashes when he can’t recall the key phrase to bring his subjects out of their hypnotic trance, leaving the audience and the reader on tenterhooks. This is a story of secrets: secret shame, secret pain, and secret ugly desires that drive people to commit atrocious acts. Flacco’s screenwriting skills bring an already suspenseful story to a visceral level as the reader ever-so-slowly discovers the elusive connections among characters and the inexorable pull of fate. Suggest this to readers of Joanne Harris’ Gentlemen and Players (2006) and Wesley Stace’s By George (2007). --Jen Baker
About the Author
Anthony Flacco is the author of The Hidden Man, The Last Nightingale, and two non-fiction books: A Checklist for Murder and Tiny Dancer. He began his writing career as a staff writer at several prominent Chicago theatres. He was selected for the highly prestigious American Film Institute fellowship in Screenwriting and received his MFA in Screenwriting in 1992. He was the recipient of the AFI Paramount Fellowship Screenwriting Award for his script, The Frog's Legacy, and was selected as a winner of The Walt Disney Studios Screenwriting Fellowship, and spent a year writing for the Touchstone Pictures division.Anthony is a member of the Writers Guild of America (WGA), Mystery Writers of America, and the International Thriller Writers organization. He lives on Bainbridge Island off the coast of Seattle.
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Top Customer Reviews
This is not a murder mystery or a detective novel. Nor is it a police procedural. Instead it is a suspense novel whose plot emerges out of the complex personalities of its characters--almost all of them weakly drawn. (A novel feature is that one of the main characters is never named and referred to as "the nondescript man.")
It's impossible to show the contrived nature of the plot without giving it away, but nothing seems quite natural. The Pan-Pacific Exposition could make an effective background for the story, but it is hardly used. Readers will be frustrated--and perhaps even annoyed--by the author's habit of cutting away from the action at crucial points for lengthy and psychological analysis of his characters. This causes the novel to drag and undercuts the suspense rather than enhancing it. It does not make the characters more believable.
This is the second Randall Blackburn novel. The ending signals that the author plans a series around this character and his two adoptees, but it's hard to see a bright future for them in detection on the basis of this book.
In the first book of this series, Flacco shows us the horrors that go on behind the scenes in San Francisco at the time of the great earthquake and fires. Nine years later in The Hidden Man, San Francisco is just beginning to recover from the devastation brought on by a cruel trick of nature.
It is against the backdrop of the preparations of the Worlds Fair that is adoptive children tangle with relationships and coming to terms with who they are in this new world. While trying to keep his family together and have a life of his own, Blackburn and Shane are summoned to the famous mesmerist James "J.D." Duncan to protect the great one from a threat only he can see.
Duncan is keenly aware that his threat could be anyone, an anonymous and innocuous passerby no one would notice. Duncan's special skills alert him the dangers of these non-descript people which lead him to hire the homicide detective to act as his personal bodyguard.
Flacco's ability to use historical fiction to take us on a ride with him is indeed exceptional. We get to see and feel what was new to those before us. His unique skill at infusing his characters with complicated personalities and unexpected response make them that more real. Flacco draws us in as we are surprised to learn that Duncan has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease by Dr. Alzheimer himself. This unexpected twist only adds to the drama and renews interest when we think we have the plot all figured out.
While The Hidden Man can stand on its own, it is that much more meaningful if one reads The Last Nightingale first. However, it is not necessary.
I highly recommend "The Hidden Man" for anyone who loves mystery, thriller, historical fiction or just a good read.
Famous mesmerizer James "JD" Duncan knows the dangers of these non-descript people, and hires homicide detective Randall Blackburn to act as his personal bodyguard as he settles to spend 10 months in San Francisco during the World Fair of 1919. Detective Blackburn is confused. Why hire a detective to do a job that requires more brawl than brain? And why is JD in a state of panic over an attack or assassination attempt that he can't-or won't-tell the detective anything about?
Meanwhile Detective Randall Blackburn has problems of his own. In the nine years that have passed since The Last Nightingale, his two adopted children have grown up and now Randall wonders if as a single father he gave especially his strong-minded daughter the direction she needed. It doesn't help that she shows an instinctive dislike for his fiancée, whom he was otherwise counting on helping on giving his daughter the motherly advice he himself couldn't.
Revealing any more of the plot would be a shame, as Anthony Flacco has a definite talent for spinning yarns and keeping his readers interested in the characters and universe he unfolds before them. His descriptions of Randall Blackburn and his two children were intriguing and made the characters worth of further investigation.
He would, however, have benefitted from a more critical editor, as the sentences would sometimes get knotted up in themselves and require several read thrus to untangle, and the pacing of the novel varied wildly-rushed in some places and dragging in others. Especially the three-page, very detailed description of somebody burning to death was unnecessarily drawn out. As it was the only graphical scene in the book, it could easily have been shortened or removed altogether to accommodate the more squeamish of Flacco's readers.
Despite this The Hidden Man is still worth being picked up by anybody interested in historical suspense, and while it is the second book in a series, one can easily read it without having read The Last Nightingale.
Armchair Interviews says: Another good story that could have been helped with more thorough editing.