Lady Cordelia #CBR5 Review #41: Poppet by Mo Hayder

imagesI would clearly be the worst person in the world to be faced with some kind of survival situation.  Though I knew there was only one more Jack Caffery novel left unread, I gorged myself on it straight after finishing the second to last.  Now I have the looong wait with everyone else until the next.

One thing that reading a back catalogue of published works in quick succession does is highlight the similarities and differences between novels in an obvious way.  I found Poppet to be quite different to all the previous Caffery novels, in both story and structure.  The story is more verging on horror than purely detective.  Set in a creepy mental institution (is there any other kind?) the story follows a shared hysteria infecting both patients and staff around an entity known as the Maude.  Thought to be the ghost of a previous administrator, this creature has been seen prior to a number of patient deaths.  These chapters are narrated by one of the hospital staff, AJ LeGrande, who eventually approaches Detective Inspector Caffery to involve him in the mystery.  AJ believes that a recently released patient is the true culprit and worries that he will soon return to his deranged and murderous behaviours on the outside.

I found this to be an interesting story, though different to what I had expected.  Having a bulk of the narrative taken away from our detective hero does open the story up for greater development, but made Caffery feel to be on the edge of the investigation.  There are also some ongoing narrative threads from previous books here, still slooowly playing out towards their conclusion, so this novel really does not work as a standalone.  I think this story will be appreciated by existing Hayder fans but would not be a good start point for a new reader.

Lady Cordelia #CBR5 Review #40: Gone by Mo Hayder

UnknownAfter being greatly disappointed by the last couple of Mo Hayder books, Gone was a truly welcome return to form.  Huzzah!  Yes, we’re still following Detective Inspector Jack Caffery and Sergeant Flea Marley of the Bristol police force.  A carjacking is being investigated where the vehicle had a young girl in the backseat.  However, the focus of the investigation changes when the police realise this is actually a deliberate kidnapping, and not the first by this perpetrator.  Following the investigation and being thoroughly invested in the false leads, dead ends, twists and turns, this was nail-biting stuff.

I do enjoy a police procedural, especially where the story is as gripping as this.  Not quite as grotesquely revolting as Hayder’s earlier novels, she does build a real sense of dread for the victims and paints truly three-dimensional characters.  The victims’ families all react differently in their grief, and the police are humanized through individual strengths and weaknesses.  Caffery has developed from being a fairly typical fictional detective – the traumatic experiences of his past, the drinking problem and lack of close relationships – to being a more complex character who is simply trying to do his job to the best of his ability.  The detective feels like a real man, not a psychic supercop.

I raced through this novel – 400 pages in a day.  The story was simply so involving that I could not put it down.  My plight now comes from the realization that there is only one more Caffery novel published, and then I’ll be caught up and have to wait however long for the next installment.

Lady Cordelia #CBR5 Review #37: Skin by Mo Hayder

UnknownI must confess that I approached this latest Mo Hayder novel with some trepidation.  Her first two, Birdman and The Treatment had provoked such a strong, visceral reaction in me, that I was perhaps overly disappointed when the third, Ritual, was simply good.  And that was the case again here – Skin is a solid detective story with well-drawn characters, but it just left me wanting a bit more.

Picking right up where Ritual left off, DI Jack Caffery is unhappy that his last case has been closed with the confession of the suspect in custody.  Caffery just isn’t buying it though, and convinces his superior to allow him to continue with the investigation.  Anyone having read Ritual already knows the truth of the situation (and frankly if you haven’t read it, this book would not make any sense to you).  Also returning in this story is Flea Marley.  Her continuing story is more interesting than Caffery’s, but it is also incredibly frustrating, seeing as how the entire problem could have been avoided if she’d simply told the truth at one crucial moment.  This pissed me off so much that it actually stopped me from enjoying the story.

This review sounds harsh and I don’t intend it to.  It’s simply that the earlier books were so amazingly intense and horrific that I actually found them preying on my mind for weeks after I finished them.  I will continue to read the rest of Hayder’s work, but with my fingers crossed that she regains the razor edge that made her first two books a difficult but obsessive read.

Lady Cordelia #CBR5 Review #34: Ritual by Mo Hayder

UnknownRitual is Mo Hayder’s fifth novel, but the third starring Detective Inspector Jack Caffery.  Since we last saw him in The Treatment, Caffery has since left London and his girlfriend behind and moved to Bristol.  In fact, so much has changed since the last installment, I thought I had accidently picked up this book out of sequence.  Also adding to this feeling of disorientation is that the narrative of this book works very differently to the first two.  In those, the reader was firmly onside with the investigation – making connections as the police put the puzzle together.  Here though, the chapters flick between the police and the victim, which is certainly not a problem but it does serve to put a curious distance between reader and main character.

Caffery is also shown in a different light here.  Instead of the faithful boyfriend of the first two novels, here he is regularly having sex with prostitutes and idly considering sleeping with witnesses. Of course, much was changed at the end of the second novel, but I was surprised at such a fundamental shift in the nature of the hero.  Caffery is also much closer to the edge in terms of being a morally “good” policeman.  Beating up suspects and informants seems unlikely for him, and yet here he is.  Now that he’s cut himself adrift from all his old ties in London, perhaps this unmoored new life is what has set him adrift.

We also meet a new character, Sergeant Phoebe “Flea” Marley.  A police diver, she finds a severed hand that proves to have been amputated from a living victim.  A day later, the second hand is discovered.  From there the investigation takes a dark turn to the underworld of modern day witchcraft.

I had high expectations of this novel as the first two affected me so powerfully.  This one however left me a bit meh.  Though well written and with an interesting story, it simply did not grab me and I must confess that I’m a bit sad to have lost the Jack Caffery I was crushing on in the first two novels.

Lady Cordelia #CBR5 Review #30: The Treatment by Mo Hayder

UnknownThe second novel by English writer Mo Hayder, The Treatment is every bit as disturbing as her first.  At times, the depravity and horror of the crimes made me doubt my own reason for reading and certainly doubt Hayder’s reason in writing this story.  Yes, in some ways it’s a fairly typical murder investigation procedural – but the brutality of the crimes and the effects on the victims and the investigating officers are so intense that I was simply compelled to keep reading, though I felt a sane person would have stopped.

I would really think hard before recommending this book to anyone – especially anyone with children.  Detective Jack Caffery is called to investigate a home invasion where a London couple have been imprisoned for three days and their young son has been taken. As was developed in the first novel, Jack’s own brother had vanished during their childhood, with the suspect being a local sex offender.  Obviously, Jack draws a parallel to that event and has to face up to the fact that he has never known for sure what actually happened to his brother.

Hayder occasionally makes mention of near misses during the investigation that could have blown the case wide open, but were missed by the police.  Usually this kind of authorial intervention would irritate the hell out of me, but here it just had my stomach in knots – and actually made me the kind of crazy person that shouts at the characters in the story.  The pace of the book is relentless; especially once a second child is endangered… you certainly don’t assume a shiny happy ending in a Hayder novel.

Finishing the book brought palpable relief that the story was resolved and I could set it aside.  Yes, this is a compelling novel, well plotted and written.  Prepare yourself for a very dark story if you should decide to read.

Lady Cordelia #CBR5 Review #24: Birdman by Mo Hayder

birdmanHave you heard of Mo Hayder?  She’s one of those British detective writers you like, except really… disturbed.

This was a friend’s recommendation that led me to order the first of Mo Hayder’s novels from the library.  And it is spot on.  Yes, she writes modern day British crime with the classic flawed hero, but this story was seriously disturbing.  I can’t remember the last time a novel gave me such heebie jeebies.

Detective Inspector Jack Cafferty has recently joined a new crack investigation squad in London.  He has all the classic anti-hero traits: a drinking problem, inability to sustain a relationship, a dark secret in his past.  His first callout with his new team is to a crime scene in North Greenwich, where the bodies of five murdered women have been found.  The investigation quickly takes a turn for the weird, shocking and completely revolting – strong stomachs are advised.

I don’t want to get into any spoilers of the plot here, as I find in detective fiction it’s making the connections as the story unfolds that’s half the fun, but… wow.  Gross-out ickiness factor aside, I really did not guess how this story was going to play out.

Mo Hayder hits all the beats I look for in detective fiction: a great story with lots of twists and turns, a flawed hero, lots of detail about the process behind the investigation…. But in addition to this, she writes some of the most detailed characters I have ever read in a novel of this genre – even the smaller characters are fleshed out with motivation and drive.   I will be looking for the next novel in the series, though I will certainly be mentally preparing myself better this time.  If you do decide to read this, don’t say you weren’t warned!