Nothing Hidden is Paulette Bullinger's debut novel set in her native part of North Dakota partly in the present day, but mostly one hundred years ago. The central storyline concerns two childhood friends, Lillian Kruenfel and Rose Welsley, who lived in small communities either side of the Missouri River, St Giles and Rivers Edge, the latter near the state capital of Bismarck.
The storyline opens with Lillian's wedding in 1912, but then switches to shortly before her death in 1967 when she gave a sealed envelope to her 16 year-old great niece, Catherine. The envelope contains details about a mystery that is still after 50 years burdening the soul of the devoutly Catholic Lillian. She wants Catherine to make the truth known, but not until long after Lillian's death, which brings the story up to 2012, which is also the date of the original publication by Knuckledown, although it appears to have been re-published in October 2014 and no publisher is credited in the Kindle edition I read.
Most of the novel returns to the years 1910-1912 among devoutly Catholic families plus the Lutheran family into which Lillian married in 1912. The mystery was revealed after Lillian's funeral to concern a murder, which is not a spoiler as the brief blurb on Amazon (the exclusive retailer) reveals that this is the subject of the novel. However that mystery remains a mystery for most of the book, which focuses on the lives and loves of Lillian and Rose. It is only towards the end of the novel that the mystery is laid out (rather than solved) for this is not a murder mystery novel, but a story about a long-held secret that is slowly revealed in the text.
The narrative premise of the book is an interesting one, but unfortunately it is let down by its poor pacing. Much of the novel reads like a North Dakotan equivalent to Willa Cather's frontier novels such as My Antonia and then there is a lot of swiftly revealed action at its close. The opening chapters with the part revealing of the secret about a mystery that is then described as a murder is not followed through for most of the novel. This made it a frustrating read because it set up expectations of one genre and turned into something else.
It is just the narrative structure that is problematic as the prose style does not draw the reader into the story. It is written in a distant style that provides little detail about the character's emotions. It made me think of reading a movie script where the emotion in the story would be brought out by the director and actors. Although scripts tend to be dominated by dialogue and what dialogue appears in this novel is not well written.
Nothing Hidden is a good idea spoiled by weak implementation. It could have been much improved with a rewrite to make the main storyline more about the mystery and less about the love stories. Those who are less bothered than I am by underdeveloped writing skills may enjoy the book, so long as they do not expect it to be a murder mystery.
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