Review: Ritual by Mo Hayder

Title: Ritual (the 3rd Jack Caffrey novel)

Author: Mo Hayder

Publisher: ISIS Audio Books

ISBN: N/A (digital download from audible.com)

Length: 12hrs 20 minutes

Narrator:Andrew Wincott

Police diver Phoebe ‘Flea’ Marley discovers a human hand in a Bristol harbour. DI Jack Caffrey, newly moved to Bristol from London, responds to Flea’s suggestion that the case deserves more than a cursory handling. A second hand is soon found and when they learn that the person to whom the hands belonged was probably alive when they were severed the investigation moves into overdrive. The search is on for a man recently released from prison after serving a sentence for a terribly violent crime while at the same time the team investigate the crime’s possible links to Muti: an African belief system.

This is not your standard police procedural. It’s far more concerned with the psychological elements of crime and the things that motivate all the players. Flea and Jack both have personal demons that influence their behaviour and the kind of officers they are. Hayder provides rich back stories for them both but incorporates these into current events well enough that it never feels like a waste of time as can sometimes happen. They are complex people too, with foibles and good points in roughly equal measure, who rarely behave predictably. I think it’s a sign of excellent writing that my opinion of both these characters changed as more of their respective layers were revealed. For the most part the less important characters were created with equal deftness and even those that played only a minor role, such as Jonah’s mother who only appeared towards the very end, were totally credible. In fact the relatively few portions of the book that depict the life of the young man whose hands are severed were, for me, the most powerful and evocative of the lot.

The story too is a complex one with many concurrent themes the strongest of which is that almost all the characters have some element of their past that haunts or troubles them in their current lives. But Hayder explores other issues too including the way people deal, or don’t deal, with being transplanted from their own culture and the role that family bonds play at all layers of society. She also looks at an urban drug culture and the industry that thrives on exploiting the vulnerable within that culture. Funnily enough, the one element of the book that I struggled with was the inclusion of the more traditional crime fiction elements, like the fairly obvious false trails and red herrings, which I didn’t think were handled quite as well as the psychological elements of the book.

I’ve not read any of the Jack Caffrey books before so I don’t know how this compares to others but I was certainly captivated by this story. If you imagine Trainspotting meets McCallum you might get a sense of this world and the fact I was an hour late for work this morning is the best evidence I have that it’s an utterly gripping read.

Audio book specific comments: I think Andrew Wincott might be my new favourite narrator. Outstanding job.

My rating 4/5

Other stuff

Reviewed by crimeficreader at It’s A Crime (Or A Mystery)

Reviewed by Maxine at EuroCrime

Reviewed by Fiona at EuroCrime

Skinis the fourth Jack Caffrey novel and it’s out now for UK readers but I don’t know when the rest of us will see it.

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2 Responses to Review: Ritual by Mo Hayder

  1. Maxine says:

    Great review. I enjoyed this, but not as much as her first, Birdman – which was very dark, like all MH’s books – and the awful thump in the end of the second novel (name escapes me). After that, she wrote a standalone, Tokyo, which I really liked – particularly the “secret history” which was awful and so well told – but it fell apart in the last quarter or so with the modern thriller element. Then she wrote another standalone, Pig Island, which I thought was a mess. So Ritual is a return to form, I think. For me, the best parts of this book were the sections about Jack and the Walking Man (or is it Wandering Man)?

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  2. I have read Pig Island but I couldn’t tell you a single thing about it, other than I remember the title. Other than that I’ve not read any of Mo Hayder’s books. I can’t imagine I’d want to read a lot of them in succession due to all the depressing themes but I did enjoy the characters in this one. And while The Walking Man was certainly a unique character it’s the image of that poor boy screaming for his hands that has kept me awake for two nights now (seriously the stuff of nightmares).

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