Jess Kidd’s sophomore novel retains some of the key elements that made her debut Himself so successful – murder, secrecy, and a touch of the supernatural. The Hoarder is much more than a generic thriller or mystery shelf-filler however. Its story is interwoven with intricate characters, evocative locations, and exquisite language.
The plot centres on Maud, an Irish care worker tasked with the unenviable job of decluttering cantankerous geriatric Cathal Flood’s neglected and junk-filled London home. Her subtle gift of mediumship sends her warnings, though, in the form of newspaper cuttings about a missing girl, whispers in the kitchen, and hidden letters. With the help of her detective story-obsessed landlady, Maud delves further into the house – and Cathal’s history – than she really should.
One of the most successful aspects of the novel is the nature of the conflicts that arise. Yes, there is an unsolved murder. Yes, Maud faces physical threats. But what feels most powerful is the pull between Maud’s developing friendship with Cathal as she peels away his aggressive ego and the secrets she is uncovering about what he may or may not have done to his dead wife and missing daughter. Beyond this, too, is the lingering awareness that Maud is still dealing with the disappearance of her own sister in childhood, a scarring event that haunts her dreams and gives the reader another enigma to dissect.
The most effective feature of Kidd’s writing is her characterisation and precise use of detail. Maud is sculpted as both an introvert and a heroine. Her imaginary – or perhaps divinely-inspired – companionships with various saints are fascinating and at times she is conveyed as more vulnerable and lonely than the elderly widower whose life she has thrown herself into. Transvestite, agoraphobic landlady Renata is also richly conveyed and could easily have her own entire novel exploring her colourful past and witty outlook. Furthermore, the setting of Cathal’s mansion – Bridlemere – is evoked in bustling, sensory detail, from the filthy cluttered kitchen and overgrown garden to the frozen-in-time dusty bedrooms and hallways adorned with taxidermied creations and eerie paintings.
Although the amateur detective plot is not particularly revolutionary, The Hoarder definitely breaks ground with its sumptuous language and fine attention to specifics of character and setting. A BBC adaptation is already in the works. Let’s hope it can live up to the craft and dense atmosphere of Kidd’s writing.