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.