I have been having trouble getting into a book lately, so I was thrilled to find that once I started reading Hidden Pictures, it hooked me enough to want to continue reading until I finished it. I had not heard of its author before, and while I picked up the book on the basis of a recommendation in a magazine, I didn’t have high hopes, given the number of books I had picked up recently that I couldn’t read past a few pages.
The book is a ghost story, which, in itself, is so unusual. How many authors write ghost stories these days? There is Stephen King, of course, the master of horror and supernatural thrillers, but I have not really been a fan. (I did read The Outsider, which I enjoyed, but not enough to make me want to read more of his books.) Apart from him, however, no contemporary writer comes to mind.
The plot of Hidden Pictures, in brief — A young woman, Mallory Quinn, fresh out of rehab for drug addiction, is hired as a babysitter by a wealthy couple, Caroline and Ted, for their five-year-old son, Teddy. She moves in with them, staying in a small cottage in their property. All is hunky dory in the beginning – Teddy loves her, Caroline and Ted are warm and solicitous, and the neighborhood where they live is beautiful. The job seems like a godsend to Mallory, who has been through severe trauma and loss, culminating in substance abuse. She is looking to put the past behind her and make a fresh start.
Teddy loves to draw, and while his pictures are typical of what little kids make – with stick figures – in the beginning, they soon become more intricate and more realistic, going far beyond even what most adults could draw. And not only that, the pictures start getting more gruesome, showing a woman with a child being murdered and buried in the ground by a man. Teddy claims that he has an imaginary friend called Anya who is making him draw these pictures; and Mallory – who is really freaking out by now – suspects that the cottage she is living in is haunted by a woman who died there in mysterious circumstances decades ago and is now using Teddy to communicate what happened to her. She tries to share her fears with Caroline and Ted, but they are atheists and do not take her seriously. In normal circumstances, Mallory would have left, but she really needs this job. She also has become as attached to Teddy as he is to her.
There is, of course, no rational explanation for the pictures, and in an attempt to get Teddy to stop drawing them, Caroline gets him an iPad, leaving him too addicted to playing the game, “Angry Birds,” rather than drawing. When this happens, the “ghost” – because there is no doubt now that it is a ghost – starts channeling itself through Mallory and uses her as the medium for continuing to draw the pictures.
At this point, the book becomes totally riveting and it is hard to put it down until you get to know how the story is resolved. There is a plot twist at the end that I did not see coming, and it is to the credit of the author that it is believable rather than ludicrous. The book is also well written – not a literary masterpiece by any means, but at the same time, not pedestrian.
And then, of course, there are the pictures that the ghost draws, first through Teddy and then through Mallory. They are all shown, making the story a lot more real, rather than leaving it up to our imaginations. And they are gorgeous.
All in all, I really liked this book. It was a quick and enjoyable read and thankfully broke the not-finding-anything-good-to-read jinx for me.
Author: Jason Rekulak
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publication Date: May 2022
Contributor: Lachmi Khemlani is a fan of the written word.