Detective Randall Blackburn does not like his new assignment. After 19 years on the San Francisco police force, the homicide detective has been given a job babysitting. It is
nine years after the great San Francisco earthquake, and the city is starting to renew itself. The Panama Canal has just been completed, and the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition is about to draw multitudes of tourists into the rebuilt San Francisco. The famed mesmerist J.D. Duncan has been engaged as the premiere attraction, and Blackburn, along with his adopted son, Shane Nightingale, finds himself assigned as a bodyguard to the increasingly paranoid stage performer.
J.D. Duncan is known the world over as a master hypnotist. When he takes to the stage, his command of the crowd is complete. The only thing Duncan is unable to control is his own mind – he is caught in the ravages of Alzheimer’s, a disease newly identified, which robs him of his ability to remember much of his life. He combats his symptoms with an elixir that offers him flashes of clarity in between moments of mania. When strange coincidences start to increase, he becomes convinced that someone is trying to kill him, but he can’t afford to show too many of his secrets to Detective Blackburn.
As Blackburn and Nightingale attempt to guard the performer against his unknown assailant, Blackburn’s adopted daughter, Vignette, has a mystery of her own to solve. Betrayed in her attempt to attend police officer’s training in disguise, Vignette cannot help but believe Blackburn’s fiancé, Janine Freshell, is not at all what she seems. As Vignette probes underneath the woman’s perfect exterior, she uncovers a devastating secret. As the connections between Miss Freshell and J.D. Duncan begin to become clear, the lives of everyone involved depend on whether or not Blackburn and Nightingale can piece the clues together in time.
Former screenwriter Anthony Flacco is a gifted author and storyteller. His descriptions of event and place allow the reader to see perfectly the action as it unfolds. In fact, for some readers, his descriptions might be too good, as some of his death sequences are several pages long, and extremely graphic. The action of the novel unfolds gradually, building suspense in each chapter, so the reader is eager to turn each page to see what will happen next.
The Hidden Man is Flacco’s second novel featuring Randall Blackburn and Shane and Vignette Nightingale – it’s predecessor,
The Last Nightingale, took place nine years before the events of The Hidden Man, when Shane and Vignette were still children. Readers familiar with the preceding novel will be captivated to see how the characters have grown, but The Hidden Man is fully readable as a stand-alone novel.
Flacco’s depiction of the unusual blended family is brilliant. Each of his main characters is amazingly complex, and it would be nearly impossible to choose one as a favorite. His secondary characters are equally interesting, and he spends time giving each emotions and motivations that bring them fully to life. Within the confines of a mystery, Flacco is also able to explore themes such as a woman’s place within society and what makes a family truly a family,
adding depth and richness to an already well-told story.
The Hidden Man is an excellent novel which should enjoy a wide readership. I highly recommend it to fans of mystery and suspense, as well as historical fiction and family dramas. I sincerely hope Flacco has plans to continue this series, because I can hardly wait to read the next adventures of Randall, Shane and Vignette.