Bill Pronzini weaves a delightful tale of suspense in his short novel, The Hidden. It is California in the 00s and the unsullied vistas of nature are a soothing balm to a veteran just returned from the hellhole that is Iraq. Driving along the edge of the continent is just what the PTSD-scarred veteran needs to restore his mental equilibrium and sanity. Unfortunately, he finds that there are despoilers present in pockets of this paradise too. People who dump refuse indiscriminately, people who toss garbage at sea lions, people who chop down trees to improve their living room vista, all these people are not worthy of enjoying the natural beauty of the coast. And of course, his military training has taught him just what to do with people who oppose your mission in wartime.
Injected into this twisted preservationist scenario is a couple who is trying to save their marriage and ends up staying in a cottage adjoining that of the killer. As they battle their issues and debate whether to stick it out or go their separate ways, their story gets inextricably intertwined with their next-door neighbour. The rest of the plot is somewhat predictable, while still readable. What’s remarkable about this book is the style it’s written in. Every page builds up the suspense masterfully, daring you to glance at the end of the page before the first sentence is over. There are several elements that contribute to this: a creeping phobia that explodes into full-blown panic episodically, a taciturn wife-beater who kills the man who cuckolds him, silently menacing lawmen who appear to intimidate more than help and serve, and so on. Pronzini is adept at building atmosphere and filling his universe with believable characters. Read this one for a quick thriller that will leave you wishing it had been longer. Luckily for us, Pronzini is about quality and not quantity.