I thought I’d explore my complex relationship with Mo Hayder, an author who perplexes me just a little. This is the 5th of her books I have read and it’s not always plain sailing. I loved “Tokyo” her stand-alone novel (wasn’t so wild about the too dark “Pig Island”) and I have had reservations about the two DI Jack Caffery novels I’ve read (“Birdman” and “The Treatment”) but there’s something about Mo (“Tokyo” being the case in point) that keeps driving me back to her.
My gripe about her work is that it can all be a little too full-on, all darkness and no light and this is perpetuated by the character of Caffery- a Detective Inspector obsessed with the disappearance of his brother during their childhood. It’s left him brooding, unpleasant and with tendencies towards inappropriate violence, who basically offers no light relief to the reader. I was fascinated to read in an Afterword to this novel that the author herself shared some of my views and was determined to leave him to stew in his own misery after two novels. She was aiming to do something different with this but found him worming his way back in. This has resulted in the best of her Caffery novels to this point.
This has been achieved by a change of location to Bristol, taking him away from the scenes of his turbulent past and by getting him to share the limelight with another character, Sergeant Phoebe “Flea” Marley – a police diver. Now Flea is not exactly a bundle of laughs either. Her devotion to her duties is fueled by guilt following the death of both of her parents in a diving accident but somehow putting these two troubled souls together lightens the intensity to make for a more entertaining read.
The case begins when a human hand is discovered in Bristol harbour. There are implications of muti, a regional tribal South African form of witchcraft which can involve human blood and body parts. If this sounds grim, believe me, it’s nothing compared to the cases in Hayder’s previous Caffery novels.
The whole thing is well-paced with good twists and turns and tightly plotted, creating real tension. A sub-plot sees Caffery connecting with “The Walking Man”, another damaged soul whose guilt saw him taking matters into his own hands and who now lives rough. It was this connection, Hayder says, which caused her to relent and see a place for the DI in this novel and thus brought him back. For me, this is actually the least successful aspect of “Ritual” but in bringing him back she has upped the readability of this series and I’m looking forward to reading the next one, despite its spine-chilling title “Skin”. Hayder does still have the ability to scare me witless but in this has made that ability a little more entertaining and palatable. Some of her previous books have left me with an unpleasant grubby feeling but I didn’t experience that with this. The series is here redeemed.
Ritual was published by Bantam in 2008