Well written, unsavoury pulp…
Following heart surgery, Oliver Anchor-Ferrars is delighted to get down to his country house to relax and recuperate. He and his wife, Matilda, have brought their grownup daughter, Lucia, with them. Lucia has never recovered from the trauma of the murder of her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend when she was young, and is back living with her parents after yet another job and relationship breakdown. But the country idyll is destroyed when two men come into their home, take the family captive and begin a long-drawn out episode of torture and humiliation…
Mo Hayder is one of those popular authors whose books are always billed as ‘heart-stopping’, ‘pulse-racing’, ‘terrifying’, etc. To be honest, I’ve always thought the blurbs make them look rather graphic, but decided it was time to at least try one. I rather wish I hadn’t. I realise lots of people love Hayder and clearly in the end taste is always subjective. But while I felt there was some skill in the basic writing and pacing of the book, the plot, which started out fairly well, became increasingly inconsistent and unbelievable as the book wore on till, quite frankly, it reached the point of absurdity in the end. And I fear the repeated twists and turns played such havoc with the characterisation that by the end the only believable character in the house was Matilda – the rest had had their personalities so clumsily changed so often throughout the course of the book that they had lost all credibility.
The detective, DI Jack Caffrey, is of course an angst-ridden loner, damaged by his past – a maverick who in this book at least is working entirely outside the structure of the job on his own personal vendetta, hampered on occasion by his over-indulgence in alcohol. I find it hard to think how he could have been more clichéd.
I feel anyone who has been subjected to my reviews has already heard me rant often enough about the tendencies towards sleaze and graphic violence in today’s crime fiction, so I’ll spare us all the tirade. For the benefit of anyone new to Hayder trying to decide whether this book is for them, I will merely point out, as the blurb fails to, that this book contains physical and psychological torture, explicit descriptions of people’s innards in various stages of putrefaction, episodes of graphic violence, scenes of animal cruelty, the obligatory naked woman sexual humiliation scene (with an imaginative twist, though – Hayder chooses to humiliate an elderly naked woman rather than the usual beautiful young girl – much more tasteful, eh?) and, although the use of foul language is sparing, it’s also strong. Oh, and while we don’t actually get treated to descriptions of paedophilia, the references are all there.
Since as far as I can see the book doesn’t set out to be anything more substantial than entertainment, then it all comes down to whether the reader finds the subject matter entertaining. I didn’t. In truth, I found it to be reasonably well written, unsavoury pulp with an absurd plot, and am entirely untempted to read any more of Hayder’s work.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House Transworld.