It's No I Am Charlotte Simmons
The Hidden Man by Anthony Flacco is about a killer who stalks the grounds of the San Francisco Exhibition/World’s Fair of 1915. If some of you who have read The Devil in the White City are saying to yourselves “This sounds familiar,” save yourself the time. It’s not. Except for the parts where it tries to be.
Master Hypnotist J. D. Duncan has come to San Francisco to do shows in advance of the World’s Fair, but he’s enlisted a detective Blackburn to be his personal body guard as he’s convinced someone is trying to kill him. The problem, though, is that he can’t remember who that person is or why they want to kill him. Blackburn feels his skills as a detective put this bodyguard assignment beneath him, but is informed that given the fact that his adopted daughter recently deceived the police department long enough to join a class of new recruits for police training (open only to men) and embarrassed the precinct means that he’s got penance to do. This same daughter, Vignette, has problems with Blackburn’s lady friend who she refers to as “The Eastern Whore,” and strafes against the proscribed roles for women in the early 20th century without knowing why. Oh, and there’s some kid called Shane who’s really really good at “reading” people and who may or may not actually be Vignette’s brother. There’s some confusion there.
The Hidden Man is the second in a series and while I understand that publishers don’t like to explicitly publicize these things because it cuts down on the likelihood of someone picking up the book, it’s super annoying to dive into a new book only to realize you’re not working with all the information you need. That said, The Hidden Man wasn’t bad and the story was easy to follow, most of what I missed was backstory on the main characters which may have made them seem less two dimensional. I said may.
The things that irked me the most about the novel were the times it seemed like Flacco was attempting to throw in “modern” references. Duncan is suffering from a new disease recently diagnosed by Dr. Alzheimer in Germany (historically accurate, mostly) and treats his affliction with a “miracle elixir” known as MDMA (…not so much. The compound MDMA, more commonly known as Ecstasy, was first synthesized in 1912, but there’s no record of it being used to treat memory loss. Also, Duncan doesn’t really seem to experience the true effects of Ecstasy. He totally doesn’t start playing with a 1915 version of lightsticks OR start rubbing up against people and/or objects telling them he loves them). There are also several “twists” in the story, not surprising in something that’s sort of a murder mystery, but nearly all of them come in the last quarter of the book which means there’s a whole lot of wandering around waiting for the pay off.
Overall, The Hidden Man was worth sticking with to the end, but it’s not something I’d enthusiastically recommend. Then again, it’s not I Am Charlotte Simmons, which is hands down the WORST book I’ve ever finished. (Ask me about it sometime [no really don’t, you don’t want that kind of vitriol unleashed on you.]) Anyway, if you’ve got some time to kill or a flight you need some reading material for, it’s not a terrible pick but it’s not going to enrich your life or make you want to read the other book in the series despite the hinted-at promise of an especially violent massacre-by-axe scene that traumatizes one of the characters in this book.
This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Rusty’s reviews, check out her blog, Rusty’s Ventures.
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