The sadness and loneliness of death


by Mo Hayder

Many moons ago I blogged about the lack of books set in Bristol and a couple of people pointed to Hayder as an author who has set multiple novels here. Crime series don’t tend to be my bag but that’s a combination of prejudice and unwillingness to get sucked into something that makes me add another 20 books to my TBR. Crime books have a history of strong settings so I decided to give this one a go.

This isn’t actually the first book in the series, but it’s the first one set in Bristol. Hayder’s hero policeman Jack Caffery has moved from London to the West Country, just a few weeks before the novel begins. However, the real central character in this book is Sergeant “Flea” Marley, a police diver whose personal life is a bit of a mess. She’s interesting, though perhaps loaded with a few too many foibles. But by the end of the story I really liked her and found myself hoping she’s a major part of the next few books as well. So does that mean I have become a fan of the series?

Well, yes and no. The early chapters suffer a little from a habit of describing physical appearance a bit too much, or maybe too cheesily or clunkily. It was made abundantly clear from the start that Hayder was setting up a physical attraction between Flea and Jack that, in tried and tested fashion, begins with mutual dislike/distrust.

“She had something kind of kinetic about her, something in her face that suggested her thoughts didn’t stay still for long. He hated the way he’d noticed these things about her…He hated the way he’d wanted to leave, because suddenly all he could feel was his body.”

But another apparent flaw, one that had me quite annoyed for a few days, turned out to be a prejudice of certain characters that was suddenly turned around and dealt with eloquently towards the end of the story. I can’t really explain more than that without giving away major plot points, and I am torn as to whether it shows skill or lack of it that it took so long for it to become clear that the prejudice wasn’t Hayder’s own.

But back to the plot. The story opens with Flea diving for a hand in Bristol Harbour, after someone called the police claiming to have seen one. There’s a lot of discussion about the scenarios that might lead to a severed hand being found without a body in that particular spot. Descriptions of water flow from various sources, not to mention where corpses tend to come from, seemed detailed and accurate without being at all boring. In fact one of the novel’s strengths for me was the realism of the police procedures and conversations. I completely believed in those scenes of police work, even if only Flea and Jack ever got to have the limelight.

“It wasn’t the first, nor would it be the last body part she would fish out of the mud around Bristol, and except for what it said about the sadness and loneliness of death, usually a severed hand wasn’t remarkable…Only she, Dundas and the CSM knew that this hand wasn’t commonplace at all.”

One hand becomes a pair of hands and they are quickly linked to a South African witchcraft ritual in a plot that seems at first highly unlikely before eventually becoming cleverer and darker than I had expected. There are plenty of red herrings thrown in, some a little more contrived than others, but arguably it was less of a whodunit and more of a “will the police figure it out in time?”.

It was a fairly easy, enjoyable read. It’s not great literature and I’m not in a big rush to pick up the next book but I do want to read it. Not just for the Bristol setting, either, although that was done pretty well.

Published 2008 by Bantam Press, a division of Transworld.

Source: Borrowed from a friend.

Sunday Salon: Books in series

The Sunday Salon

I have been thinking recently about how I review books in a series. I have not exactly been consistent up until now. Do you guys have any rules that you follow?

The thing is, different series throw up different problems. In some cases it is near impossible to discuss sequels without giving away spoilers from the earlier books. I found this a little with The Alexandria Quartet but I had so much to say about each book that I still gave each a separate post.

Sometimes spoilers aren’t an issue. For instance, the Claudine books reveal plot developments in their titles! But then the plot is hardly the point here.

In some cases there isn’t much new to say about successive books in a series, other than the new plot, so reviews get progressively shorter. I suspect this will be the case with the Philip Marlowe books, but I’ve only read the first two so we’ll have to see. It’s one of the reasons I haven’t yet published a review of the James Bond books (which I’m halfway through reading). I’ll probably write about one of them but I see no point discussing every one separately. (For exactly this reason, I have reviewed just one of the Modesty Blaise books I have read.)

Line up

With comic books/graphic novels I have tended to write a single post about the whole series. With Scott Pilgrim, I was so eager to read the whole series that I didn’t want to stop to make notes in-between. With Echo I would have run across the problem of spoilers, so my review really concentrated on the first book and overarching themes (I had both of these problems with Y: the Last Man, a review of which is coming later this week). With Southland Tales, I just didn’t think they were very good and so, though I had a lot to say, I saved myself from writing three separate negative reviews by just doing the one!

I am thinking about this because in the past couple of years I have read a fair few first titles in a series, and in some cases I really really want to read the rest (Tales of the City, for example) but I’m not sure I’ll be able to write much about it so I put it off. I know that’s silly, that this blog shouldn’t stop me from reading great books, but there we are.

Do you have any favourite book series? And do you review every book you read?