By Mo Hayder
Bantam Press, 2010
Mo Hayder is back on form with a vengeance in Gone, her latest novel about detective Jack Caffery of the Bristol major crime investigation unit and police diver sergeant Flea Marley. After two promising but, for this reader, eventually disappointing outings for Caffery in his Bristol persona (Ritual andSkin), the author here delivers a cracking, classic police procedural novel that must be one of the best of its type I’ve read for a good while.
The story is about missing girls, a subject too distressing to contemplate, but here handled in a sensitive way. There are none of Hayder’s trademark obsessions with visceral or pathological details in this novel, leaving us with a jolly good detective story with a classic but clever plot. A man steals and drives away in a car from a city-centre parking garage, as Rose Bradley, a vicar’s wife, packs her food shopping in the boot. Her 13-year-old daughter is in the back seat. Caffery and his team, as well as all the regular police that can be spared, are soon out searching for the girl. Flea, a person given to watery premonitions, feels convinced that the old, buried canal is relevant, so takes her team of divers down the dangerous, dark tunnels to search along the sludge and sunken, abandoned barges – a remarkably atmospheric and convincingly described setting. Nothing is found, and the parents are increasingly desperate.
Before too long, another girl is taken in a similar manner. The description of this abduction is highly suspenseful, as the reader is pretty sure it is going to happen sooner or later – but the circumstances are nevertheless a shock as Janice, the mother concerned, becomes distracted while Emily is waiting in the back seat of their car. We have been witnessing cracks appearing in Janice’s marriage before this crisis occurs, cracks that we feel pretty sure will give way to a full-blown break-up. Yet again, the direction taken by the author in this regard is a surprise.
Caffery and Flea pursue their separate off-the-books investigations. In Caffery’s case, this means a couple of encounters with his alter ego, the Walking Man, for possible enlightenment; and in Flea’s, this means leaving her somewhat demoralised team to the official search while she follows the hunches of her dreams (mainly involving her dead father) into the old canal again. But these somewhat mystical asides are just a fraction of the main action, which focuses on two main elements – the police investigation and the effect of the disappearances on the two families concerned. I’m not going to give away any more of the plot than I’ve already mentioned because it would spoil too much of the pleasure a reader must surely feel in the clever construction of layers that the author has provided. As I have mentioned, although the subject is a horrible one, the author never oversteps the mark into unnecessarily explicit or horrible description, yet she provides a blisteringly paced, tense thriller that you honestly won’t want to stop reading until you have finished it.
The novel is best appreciated if you have read the previous Jack Caffery novels, particularly the last two, although the reader of Gone is provided with a few brief updates of the necessary back-story, not least the misunderstanding that lies heavily between Flea and Caffery after the complicated fallout of the car accident of the previous two books. It is far superior to these earlier novels, though, perhaps even touching on the excellence of the author’s, and Caffery’s, debut, Birdman. I very much hope this signifies the beginning of a fresh burst of life for this series – not least because the author has left things nicely poised for Caffrey and Flea, connected on the astral plane, to stop ignoring each other in the real world and have a meaningful conversation, which could lead who knows where? I don’t, but it will certainly be somewhere exciting on the evidence of Gone.