I am a lover of all things within the urban fantasy genre. The combination of fantasy tropes with modern sensibilities is something that has a deep resonance for me. I definitely read Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris, and Kim Harrison but am always on the lookout for new entrants into this arena.
One such new voice is Doyce Testerman with his debut novel, Hidden Things. I picked the book up around the beginning of the year after reading the back blurb. It sounded like it shared some similarities with Gaiman’s American Gods which made it an easy purchase for me. It was not until this last weekend that I had some free time for reading. It was an hour long road trip to visit family and I finished the book on the way back home.
It was captivating.
Hidden Things is the story of Calliope Jenkins, a strong woman with a complicated life. She is a private detective who is awoken at one in the morning by a strange call from her partner. He lets her know that the case he is working on is not going how he expected. He wants her to let his wife know that he won’t be home as planned. In the light of day, things only get darker as it turns out her partner has been murdered. The only thing is that she has a message from him an hour after he is supposedly dead. This one strange item proves to be a gateway for Calliope as answering this riddle only spreads the strangeness and makes her life more complicated.
Earlier, I compared Hidden Things to American Gods. This is an apt comparison, yet incomplete. Where Gaiman’s work is full of strangeness written large, Testerman has crafted a modern fairy tale filled with a similar strangeness with a much more intimate feel. Calliope’s story formed an instant connection with me. Here is a strong woman with a definite direction. Despite this strength and direction, her life is still is very messy. She works in a detective agency with her ex-boyfriend who is now married. She has a boyfriend that is both understanding but not a doormat. When things go wrong she doesn’t wait to be rescued but takes pragmatic action in line with her beliefs.
Calliope is the fulcrum on which this intimate tale spins. The Hero’s Journey that is very much about discovery. All along the way there is something to learn. The weirdness of the world that she has stumbled into is woven into the reality of what here life is. Each step of the way turns up a new piece about each. It is a languorous burlesque. Each piece revealed is thrilling but the whole is a work of beauty. Calliope’s ex’s wife is one of the best examples of this in the book . The book opens quickly introducing her but not as “The Wife”. What follows is a small dance in the greater scheme of the story. The relationship is revealed playing upon the trope of the ex-girlfriend. When the dance reaches it’s crescendo, this expectation of animosity is twisted forty-five degrees creating a much more satisfying relationship and revealing greater depth to Calliope.
Hidden Things is an extraordinary debut. I am looking forward to hearing more from Doyce Testerman.