Ritual – Mo Hayder (2008) – A Murder They Wrote Review

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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.

fourstars

Ritual was published by Bantam in 2008

Tokyo- Mo Hayder (2004) – A Murder They Wrote Review

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After reading Hayder’s 2006 standalone novel, the grim tale of “Pig Island”  which I described as “relentlessly seedy”  I said that I would have to have another go at “Tokyo” to see why that worked so well and stood out from the crowd.  It was my favourite read of 2009 . At the time I wrote in my Book Journal that it was “tense and pretty harrowing”, which it is, but will it survive the re-read challenge?

The answer to that is not fully but it is still significantly the best of the novels I have read so far by Hayder and I’m still sure that there are  more first class novels from this author when she gets, for me, the balance right between light and shade.  My main criticism of her is that the unrelenting tension and horror in her themes can be a little too much for this reader.

I think “Tokyo” is helped by adding a little glamour with the excitement and mystique of the Japanese setting.  This lets a little more light into the proceedings- although in case you think Hayder may be getting soft with us this book links Japanese war atrocities with the Yakuza (Japanese mafia).  Main character Grey arrives in Tokyo with little money but a heap of emotional baggage.  A disturbed, obsessed young woman she is looking for information on a Japanese massacre in the Chinese city of Nanking in 1937.  She believes a professor holds the final key to this obsession but finds him reluctant to talk.  Without money options seem fairly limited until she meets Jason who is living in a large, abandoned property with two Russian girls- all of whom work in a club run by a Japanese Marilyn Monroe wannabe named Strawberry.

Grey’s quest to find the truth leads her very quickly into some difficult areas.  Alongside this plot thread is the journal of Shi Changming, a survivor of the massacres.  The tension is cranked up in both narratives as the atrocities of war and a search for the elixir of life in modern-day Tokyo overlap and the climax of both is undeniably horrific.  Although I first read this 7 years ago I had managed to put much of this out of my mind.  On re-read it is back again.

I liked the characterisation in this novel.  We piece together Grey’s back story throughout the plot, Jason and Strawberry are complex individuals and Shi Changming, the professor haunted by the events of 1937 is handled well.  There’s a couple of cartoonish baddies but they are none the less horrific for that.  I re-read this book with the thought of recommending it as one of my 100 Essential reads but on reflection it doesn’t quite make the grade.  Perhaps it didn’t impress me as much as it did the first time round but this is still a powerfully told, harrowing tale which I will no doubt be keeping on my bookshelves.

fourstars

Tokyo was published in 2004 by Bantam

Two By Mo Hayder – A Murder They Wrote Review

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The Treatment (2001)

Pig Island (2006)

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Mo Hayder once ruined my holiday!  I went to the Canary Islands for a week of sun and relaxation and took her debut novel “Birdman” (2000).  I thought it would be a perfect read by the pool on a sun-lounger.  It was not.  The word for it was visceral, and although gripping was so chilling that it gave me nightmares throughout my holiday- and this is one of the few times a book has had this effect on me. I felt a little bit guilty that when I left I placed it on the bookshelves in the lobby of the complex, for other holidaymakers to pick up.  Well, if she ruined my holiday, she could darn well ruin somebody else’s to make up for it!

But then I read her standalone novel “Tokyo” and really enjoyed it and back in 2009 it was my favourite read of the year.  “The Treatment” is the third of her books and like “Birdman” features Detective Inspector Jack Caffery and like “Birdman” I found it very disturbing.   The theme is paedophilia and a case becomes personal for Jack as it plays into his obsession with his brother’s disappearance as a child.  Jack suspects the abduction was carried out by a neighbour who still taunts the detective.  This neighbour was also in “Birdman” and I found this plot-line very disturbing then and it is more satisfactorily resolved in the follow-up but the main case is pretty ghastly.  Hayder is superb at cranking up the tension but it can all become a little too much for this reader.  I wondered how much gender plays a part in this- does she get away with such dark material because she is a woman writer?  Not sure.

Anyway, with “Tokyo” still in mind I abandoned the Caffery series for my next read and went with another stand-alone “Pig Island” which even from the title suggests it’s not going to be a barrel of laughs. In fact I thought it was relentlessly seedy with its tale of Satanism and strong horror story influences, especially in its first half.  Joe Oakes, a journalist, goes to a remote Scottish isle to meet the members of a sect, the Psychogenic Healing Ministeries who have settled there.  Oakes also has a score to settle with the leader who he has had a previous run-in with.  What he finds on the island is a community divided and living in fear of Satanic influences.  Things get progressively worse for Joe, who is not the most likeable of characters and also for his damaged, neurotic wife Lexie and their lives are under threat.  The tension is unceasing and there is no doubt that Hayder is first class at achieving this but sometimes once again things are a little too much and the reader ends up for a bit of light in the shade.  So what was it about “Tokyo” that got me so excited when I read it in 2010? Why did that work so well and stand out from all the other books I read that year?  It’s no good – I’m going to have to re-read to find this out…………..Stay tuned!

threestars

for both

 

The Treatment was published in 2001 and Pig Island in 2006 by Bantam