20/02/2015

Hidden Treasures (by Fern Britton)

I had never heard of Fern Britton. Apparently I may be in the minority here, as it turns out that she used to be quite a well-known TV presenter. I downloaded this book as it was on special offer a few months ago, free for the Kindle; the blurb and cover looked intriguing. I read it in odd moments on a flight, and then while staying with relatives.

‘Hidden Treasures’ starts with an intriguing prologue featuring an elderly woman who is about to move into care. It seemed like there was potential for a great story here - and, indeed, the opening chapter is also good. The main part of the book is about a middle-aged woman called Helen who has just moved to a small village after leaving her philandering husband.

Helen meets the local Vicar, Simon, under slightly embarrassing circumstances; he’s clearly rather inexperienced with women, and a little clumsy. She also meets Tony, a young man who isn’t very bright but is good at gardening and other odd jobs, and is always willing to be helpful.

She also meets Piran, a local man who is good looking and also unbearably rude. Evidently, given the normal rules of this kind of fiction, they were probably going to end up together… but I hoped I was wrong. Simon is a much nicer person.

Then Helen’s best friend Penny comes for a visit. Penny is a TV producer hoping to make a film; and the village where Helen now lives turns out to be exactly right. Penny is outgoing and just a little pushy, and soon gets the permissions needed as well as many willing participants.

Oh, and there’s a mystery box which Tony discovers in Helen’s back garden….

All of which sounds like an excellent mixture of people with plenty of potential for a good story, particularly given the author’s experience in the media world.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work.

After the first chapter, which I enjoyed, the writing starts to meander, and the middle of the book is filled with dull day-to-day descriptions of Helen’s life, most of which are irrelevant to the plot. There’s a dull chapter about a talent night that could have been left out entirely, and then - worst of all - there’s a lengthy section about the TV production in the village, going into unnecessary and tedious detail about who said what, and how the days went. After a few pages I skimmed this and did not seem to miss anything.

By the time I was half-way through the book I was ready to give up - except that I wanted to know who Helen was going to end up with, and - if it was as I expected - what would happen to the nice Vicar. I didn’t like the outcome or the ending, but I did, at least, keep reading.

My overall feeling was that it was a pity that this was not thoroughly edited. I assumed at first that it was self-published, but apparently the paperback was taken by Harper and became a best-seller - presumably due to the author being a television personality. It could have been a great story; there are some interesting and memorable characters, and the hint in the prologue could have been so much more significant than in fact it was.

But, sadly, the writing deteriorates after the first chapter and I'm mystified as to why it was not edited. Clich├ęs abound, viewpoints switch almost at random making it hard to get inside anybody’s head, and so much of the book is irrelevant and unnecessary. Cut to about half its length and with some significant re-writing of the remainder, it could have been so much better.

Not recommended. However, as many will want to judge for themselves, the Amazon links are to paperback editions of this. The Kindle version is no longer free, and is (in my view) very over-priced for an ebook.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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