Gone by Mo Hayder
Those new to Mo Hayder but partial to a gripping thriller will be tantalized by the author blurb in this seventh crime novel from the British writer: “Mo Hayder has written some of the most terrifying crime thrillers you will ever read. Her first novel, Birdman, was hailed as a ‘first-class shocker’ by the Guardian and her follow-up, The Treatment, was voted by The Times one of ‘the top ten most scary thrillers ever written.’”
Crikey. Nothing like the weight of expectation. Happily, this is a case of underpromising and overdelivering. Gone is lengthy, at more than 400 densely-packed pages, but plotted with extreme skill. It doesn’t flag for a moment, and Hayder expertly balances the main storyline with a related sub-plot (the woman Caffery yearns for, police diver Sergeant Flea Marley, undertakes her own, subterranean search to find the villain at the centre of the story).
The best thrillers kick into action immediately, and accordingly, the first page of Gone has Hayder’s recurring protagonist, DI Jack Caffery, contemplating a crime scene. It happens to be a public street in which a Santa Claus mask-wearing man wrestled a woman away from her car and drove off – with her young daughter in the back seat.
Several similar incidents quickly follow, and it becomes apparent to Caffery and his team that this serial offender wants something more than either the cars or the children. But the preternatural intelligence and foresight of the Jacker, as he becomes known, is stymieing the investigators: it’s as if he has access to information that is so high-level even the police can’t get at it. But what? And what is he after?
In desperation, Caffery turns to the Walking Man, a middle-aged vagrant whom Caffery is in the habit of visiting. The Walking Man is well-known to locals as a former successful businessman whose young daughter was abducted, raped and murdered by an itinerant offender on probation. The Walking Man took grisly revenge on the killer, and now spends his days roaming the countryside, searching for his daughter’s body and sleeping rough.
Gone is the third novel from Hayder to feature the Walking Man, whose bond with Caffery adds complexity and richness to the story (they are close in part because Caffery’s brother went missing at age eight, and the offender, probably a local paedophile, was never brought to justice). Caffery sees the Walking Man as possessing unique and valuable wisdom. As Hayder writes: “[Caffery had] learned that in this relationship, he was the pupil and the Walking Man was the teacher.”
(A note for sensitive readers: Hayder’s oeuvre as a whole is one in which bad things happening to children is a recurring theme.)
It’s always best to reserve judgement on a book, especially one in this genre, where the pay-off is all. At times, I found myself holding my breath while reading Gone; I was enjoying it so much, and so clueless as to what was coming next, that I desperately hoped Hayder could deliver. She does.
It’s a great treat to discover a new favourite writer, and Hayder, with her knack for plotting and the evocation of mood, is one for any fan of clever, suspenseful fiction.
Previously reviewed on Coast.co.nz
Reviewed by Stephanie Jones
Published by Penguin