I was asked by Shots Magazine to review The Hidden Man by David Ellis, and reading the book made me think again of the qualities necessary for a thriller. Ellis is someone I haven’t met, but he’s a successful American attorney whose photo is handsome and whose books sell in large quantities. These attributes might, just possibly, have prejudiced me against him! However, I have to say straight away that I thought his book was good and deserves to do well. Not quite in the Lee Child or John Grisham class, perhaps, but a very efficient piece of work.
Essentially, it’s a story about an attorney who is coming to terms with family tragedy when hired by a mysterious stranger to defend a schoolboy friend on a murder rap. There is a lot of no doubt authentic legal detail, and the characterisation is careful, but the great strength of the book lies in the plotting. I thought this was very good, with plenty of questions to answer and plenty of twists. Definitely a cut above the standard associated in my mind with the average courtroom thriller, which can be a bit samey. So I will certainly be happy to read Ellis again in future.
As with a number of other thrillers I’ve read in the past year or so, though, Ellis juggled with viewpoints, not always in a way I found entirely successful. There’s one chapter towards the end, where the hero (who tells most of the story in the first person) features in the third person in a critical scene. For me, that didn’t entirely come off. I’m coming round to the opinion that selection of viewpoint is one of the central challenges in constructing a thriller. And it is far from easy to get it absolutely right.