If her thriller Wolf is any indication, Mo Hayder has thoroughly mastered the art of reader manipulation, and while you may know full well what she’s doing, you can’t help but obsessively turn pages. Short chapters, more often than not ending with a cliffhanger or at least some unanswered question, followed by more short chapters that shift to alternative plot lines or other characters, a narrative technique meant to keep readers guessing. It may be blatantly manipulative, but in the hands of a fine story teller, it works. And, if nothing else, Mo Hayder is one fine story teller.
Wolf, the latest in her Detective Jack Caffery series, has the British detective working off the reservation in search of information about his brother who had been kidnapped as a child and never heard from again. Looking for help from a mysterious tramp called “The Walking Man,” who seems to have access to a convict that might know something, Caffery is co-opted into looking for the owners of a little dog, which has turned up with a cryptic plea for help tucked under her collar.
The Caffery plot is grafted onto the excruciating tale of a family — the Anchor-Ferrers — terrorized by the torturous home invasion by a pair of sadists. Exactly what these men want from the family, is only one of the many pieces of information withheld from the reader for most of the novel. The plot is further complicated by the family’s connection to an older local atrocity, in which two young lovers were butchered by a maniac, who is supposedly still held by the authorities.
While an effective thriller must build on plot, believable characters whom the reader cares about are essential as well. Beginning with Caffery, himself, emotionally wounded by the loss of his brother, dedicated but quick to fly off the handle, Hayder creates a varied cast of characters, both major and minor, that does the job. Oliver Anchor-Ferrers is an elderly scientific whiz who has just undergone heart surgery. Lucia, his daughter, is something of an enigmatic gothic seeming figure, who seems a bit if a rebel. Matilda, his wife, is pretty much characteristic of the capable upper middle class British matron.
Add to them minor figures like the man who parks his wheel chair bound wife outside the house while he has sex with her nurse, the mother of a young woman dead of an overdose using the girl’s death for her own purposes, or the enigmatic Walking Man who spends his life walking a wide circle in search of his missing daughter’s resting place, and a half dozen others and you’ve got the ingredients for a well told tale.
Of course there are surprises. What thriller worthy of the genre wouldn’t have its share of surprises? Some are telegraphed, some seem to come from nowhere, but there is nothing to make the reader groan. The book is a wild ride, a ride well worth taking.[amazon template=iframe image&chan=default&asin=B00HWGLWUM,0802122507]