Embry thinks she’ll have to take the secret to her grave, until she receives an anonymous note—someone else knows the truth. Next comes a series of threatening messages, asking Embry to make impossible choices, forcing her to put her loved ones at risk. Someone is playing a high stakes game where no one in Embry’s life is safe. And their last move...is murder.
Embry feels the best kind of familiar. No matter your age, you’ve likely been the same kind of adrift she is, unsure where you’re going in life or what you can even do with your life based on what you already have (which for Embry is very little money and a single mother who’s in remission from cancer but still in danger of it having spread elsewhere). She’s struggling with her friendships and relationships and she doesn’t have a single person she thinks knows all of her. Keeping the people around her happy makes her keep some pieces of herself in a box and there’s just not healthy for anyone. She’s miserable.
Hidden Pieces will hit home with readers of any age in that respect, but it’s a book that never forgets teens are its true audience.
Embry and her evolution are the strongest draw of the novel and may keep readers in their seats better than the actual mystery/thriller plot of the book does. The events themselves are a little unremarkable: Embry and her guy Holden hook up in a hotel that’s empty for the season, a romantic candle gets knocked into a puddle of spilled vodka, and everything goes up in flames. Embry is then painted as a hero for rescuing a homeless man from the flames, but someone else knows better and demands that Embry fess up. When she doesn’t, a video of her and Holden together that neither one of them had any knowledge of gets out, which leads into Holden being investigated in case it qualifies as child porn!
That’s really the nicest thing Embry’s blackmailer does, as subsequent events are outright attempts to murder Embry’s loved ones. The book’s formidable page count passes quickly, but a lot of it somehow feels empty? Things absolutely happen that are important to the novel’s plot and character development, but I simply don’t recall much of it. The mystery is capably crafted with enough red herrings to make even me doubt my strong suspicions about the culprit. And I say that while taking pride in how often I solve mysteries in books before the characters get there!
There just isn’t a lot to say about Hidden Pieces, this grounded mystery/thriller set in coastal Oregon. I like this book, I like Paula Stokes, and I’ve still got a ton of her other books on my shelves just waiting to be read. Don’t just check out her “darker” titles either, her rom-com The Art of Lainey is delightful and noteworthy. This is an author with some range!
And it was definitely better than I expected (my expectations for mystery/thriller are honestly kinda low), but I did think that this was a pretty solid read!
It’s easier to start with the negatives first, and there were honestly only two things that I wasn’t a huge fan of.
First, I felt like honestly all of this could have been avoided if the character wasn’t as…negligent? Was more honest? Like, I sort of facepalmed because I felt like the main character just could have avoided this whole situation better if she was honest with the start.
And I don’t mean just with the burning the house down thing (which I actually felt she was reasonably justified in not telling anyone because money, but still boo?), but with the whole not telling her boyfriend thing too.
I just felt like the who reason why the plot happened could have been avoided if the main character was a little more honest.
But, I do realize that this is partly because of character flaws etc., but I always get a wee bit frustrated with plots that could have been completely avoided if one thing did/did not happen.
The other thing that made this less appealing to me was that I predicted the blackmail/murderer from a little before the halfway point. Which never happens to me.
I’m pretty terrible at guessing these things and I definitely probably am getting better at guessing killers, but I also felt like Stokes didn’t include enough red herrings to make it hard to guess. Like, it was pretty easy to rule out the obvious ones (and you know the murderer is usually a side character) and there weren’t many other characters left, so I intuitively knew who it had to be just based on mystery/thriller tropes in general.
I definitely wished it was more twisty, but there were still a lot of pluses to this!
I LOVED the blackmail aspect. Like, those were chilling and dangerous and super cool. I think Stokes did a really great job of building those up and making Embry distressed and everything. It definitely felt like there weren’t a lot of options and you really felt what Embry was going through.
Plus, this book just totally sped by. It was really easy to digest, and even though I didn’t have a lot of time, I wanted to find out what happened next and I wanted to keep reading, which is more than I can say for a lot of books I don’t connect with.
So even though this didn’t end up being perfect for me, I was invested and interested and I enjoyed being chilled by all the danger! Definitely recommend if you’re in the mood for a story featuring blackmail and characters who don’t have any good options…
Thank you so much to Harper Collins for providing me with a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review!