The Hidden is a haunting mystery novel written by award-winning writer Tobias Hill. Seamlessly shifting back and forth between research notes on ancient Sparta and a present day archeological dig in Greece, the story’s main character, Ben Mercer, flees his failed marriage and his academic life at Oxford. He first finds himself in Athens, taking a job at the Metamorphosis meat grill, where he hopes to lose himself amidst the hard work and anonymity at this local dive far off the beaten path. However, tensions at the restaurant appear to possess an undercurrent of chaos that seems on the verge of erupting into potential violence. As the name implies, Metamorphosis is merely a place of transition for Ben, before he eventually seeks out a job at an archeological dig site taking place at the location where the former Sparta once existed.
With themes reminiscent of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, the Spartan dig and the group of archeologists are not all that they would appear on the surface. Struggling between feeling like an outsider and wanting to belong to something greater than himself, Ben is forced to weigh his morals and his sense of self against his desire to be a part of this elite group. As his academic notes on Spartan history begin to descend into less research and more of a labyrinth of his own self reflections, Ben learns that some secrets may be better left hidden.
Hill does a fine job of escalating the story to its inevitable sinister ending. The characters are both representations of the old Spartan legends as well as friends and foes. They’re fearful, alluring, unattainable, flawed, stark, and dark all at once. Though the story itself is a bit circuitous at times, the pleasure of reading this book is in the writing style itself. It comes as no surprise that Tobias Hill is also a poet. His lyrical prose and observations about the most simple or the most grand of settings make the reader feel a part of the dusty behind-the-tours Greece, as if you could not only visualize it but reach out and touch it.
Olive trees silver in the last sun. Olive trunks full of lumps and rumps, love handles, sumo thighs, double chins, breasts and warts and genitals, whittled slits, murder holes, clefts and crevices, wingbones and filigrees. Olive groves full of secret things: car wrecks, gypsies and horses, shoulders of ruin.