Book review: The Hidden Girl by Louise Millar

The Hidden Girl by Louise Millar
The Hidden Girl by Louise Millar

What happens when your dream of a rural idyll turns into a terrifying nightmare?

Louise Millar, author of The Playdate and Accidents Happen, two top-notch psychological thrillers, is back with the haunting, high-tension tale of a young woman whose desire to adopt a child becomes a dangerous obsession.

Millar excels at giving us the fall-out from ordinary lives skewed off course by extraordinary events, filling her novels with addictive plotlines and her own special brand of spine-tingling suspense.

The Hidden Girl is a compelling page-turner with two story threads which interweave between a childless couple’s attempts to adopt and their hasty move to a mysterious, isolated country house which harbours shocking secrets.

Rundown Tornley Hall in a remote corner of Suffolk is going to be the ‘dream’ family home for Hannah Riley. She has given up her high-flying PR job with a human rights charity to move to the countryside with musician husband Will.

They have been waiting for years to adopt a child and Hannah is convinced that this rambling, old house, which has been empty for two years, will improve their chances with social services.

Will, who can feel their marriage crumbling under intolerable pressures, was reluctant to give up their flat and lifestyle in London, particularly as it will involve a four-hour plus daily round commute to recording studios in the city. He also fears that the house will not ‘fix things’ as Hannah hopes but merely fuel her obsession.

Within days of moving in, heavy snow arrives and Will is quietly relieved to find himself stranded in London without transport home to Suffolk. Hannah, meanwhile, throws herself into an impossible decorating schedule before the social worker arrives in just two weeks’ time.

When the boiler breaks down, the broadband fails to arrive and her phone signal fails, Hannah finds herself trapped in a house where rooms are mysteriously locked, strange noises and shadows fill the night and an intruder breaks in.

Finally, hostile neighbours and an assault on a vulnerable woman in a nearby field confirm that everything in Tornley is also not what it seems. She has to make a choice. Tell the police and risk doubts about the safety of their new home, or cover up the crime.

Hannah makes her choice, but it’s one that will rip her world apart…

Millar’s taut, intelligent writing scores top marks for suspense and atmosphere as Hannah becomes caught up in a spiral of obsession, uncertainty and fear.

A creepy cast of locals, the pressure of the social worker’s impending visit and a gradual breakdown of trust and relationships all add to the terrific sense of unease.

And as Hannah and Will’s lives drift apart and the house starts to yield its hidden history, dark events and lingering suspicions build to an explosive climax.

Thrilling, chilling and dangerously seductive…

(Macmillan, hardback, £16.99)