Review: Hidden Pictures by Jason Rekulak

covered by Hidden PicturesHidden Pictures by Jason Rekulak
Flatiron Books (May 10, 2022)
384 pages; $25.19 hardcover; $14.99 e-book
Reviewed by Chris Hallock

Jaded readers may approach new fiction with skepticism; however, Jason Rekulak’s eerie new work Hidden Pictures proves that the genre is ever-evolving. Rekulak’s latest character-driven work (following up his Edgar-nominated debut The Invisible Fortress) benefits largely from an isolated setting, clever twists, and a compelling protagonist who finds herself ensnared in a tragic supernatural mystery. The author layers his ghostly tale with intriguing psychological and cultural components that enrich its taut narrative, while exposing the sinister underbelly of its suburban setting. 

Mallory, a once promising athlete recovering from drug addiction, is looking for a fresh start after release from a treatment program. She finds the perfect gig as a live-in nanny to Teddy, the precocious five-year-old son of Caroline and Ted Maxwell, a wealthy family living in a Philadelphia suburb. The Maxwells, who see themselves as enlightened, offer Mallory space in their backyard cottage in exchange for Teddy’s care, the perfect opportunity to put a dark past behind her. Mallory bonds with the artistic Teddy through creative play and art, discovering that he has an invisible friend called Anya. Mallory’s newfound stability is threatened when the sensitive boy shares drawings depicting the haunting images of a dead woman. As his drawings become increasingly grisly and elaborate, Mallory suspects that Teddy’s invisible friend may be the victim of an unsolved murder trying to communicate through his renderings.

Through the lens of supernatural horror, Rekulak examines class division, as well as the stigmatization of those with mental health issues. The Maxwells use their supposed charity and progressive values against Mallory when she discloses her suspicions about their spectral visitor, triggering harsh reactions from her hosts. Mallory’s attempts at protecting Teddy appear as erratic behavior to the Maxwells, and the couple suspect she’s relapsed. The relative safety of the suburbs becomes an oppressive environment for a young woman seeking redemption. Rekulak uses the isolated cabin to chilling effect, replete with strange noises and shadowy presences that make Mallory doubt her own sanity. 

Hidden Pictures is an affecting work, powered by rich characterizations, and a sympathetic heroine whose survival hinges on her own resourcefulness. Rekulak doesn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel, but that isn’t his intent. His streamlined approach to the ensuing mystery makes for compulsive page-turning, charging toward stunning revelations. The story is accentuated by Will Staehle and Doogie Horner’s increasingly disturbing illustrations, rendered in gorgeous black and white, evolving from the primitive scribbles of an imaginative five-year-old, to something truly horrifying. In Rekulak’s capable hands, Hidden Pictures is a bonafide spine-tingler that tackles its themes with sensitivity, defying conventions, while remaining laser focused on the creepy components that keep readers coming back for more.

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