Poppet – Mo Hayder
Mo Hayder has been one of my favourite authors for a long time. She seems to go through peaks and troughs with her productivity, but for the last few years has got back to releasing books on a regular schedule.
She is a rare author in that her standalone books are just as strong as her series. The reviews for, “Poppet,” have been mostly favourable. Some were unhappy with the ending whilst others loved the new direction. To say I was intrigued was an understatement.
Everything goes according to procedure when a patient, Isaac, is released into the community from a high security mental health ward. But when the staff realize that he was connected to a series of unexplained episodes of self-harm amongst the ward's patients, and furthermore that he was released in error, they call on Detective Jack Caffery to investigate, and to track Isaac down before he can kill again. Will the terrifying little effigies Isaac made explain the incidents around the ward, or provide the clue Caffery needs to predict what he's got planned?
D.I. Caffrey is a great character. He is different from every other protagonist I have read. He is not an alcoholic as so many detectives are, nor has he lost a wife or child. Instead, when he was young his brother went missing and was never found. This sense of loss and guilt haunts his days, especially as Jack is convinced he knew the man who took his brother.
In “Poppet” Caffrey shares the limelight with AJ. AJ works in a mental institution that is currently suffering from mass hysteria as patients are convinced they are seeing the Maude, a dwarf like character that sits on their chest and makes them do unspeakable things.
AJ. is instantly likeable. Like Caffrey he has a horrible past but, he is just an insecure man trying to make the best of his life by helping others. He refuses to look into the horrific deeds the patients in the institute may have done to warrant their time there, as he believes that will tarnish his view of them and will not allow him to treat them objectively.
As the patients become more unsettled, AJ feels compelled to do something about it and act where others fail to. In this way we are allowed to see the initial investigation into what exactly is going on before Caffrey inevitably gets involved.
I got the distinct sense that Mo Hayder was in two minds as to whether or not she wished this novel to be a standalone or part of the Caffrey series. Caffrey’s involvement in the first half of the book revolves around the continuation of the case of Misty (the young famous actress who went missing previously in the series). If you are up to date on the series you will know who is responsible for Misty’s death. You will also know that Caffrey also knows. We are treated therefore, with a lot of posturing as Caffrey maintains the pretence of searching for Misty whilst trying to let Misty’s real killer the chance to talk to him. It is intriguing but I am pleased the story was kept as a sub plot rather than the main story.
It is the events at the institute that are the most interesting and has the best characters. Melanie is great as the hard-nosed boss with the vulnerable side, whilst Patience is a welcome comic relief to all the tension. It is the inmates that are the most intriguing though. Monster Mother in particular is fascinating: Completely deluded, convinced she gave birth to all the other inmates and staff and dresses in a particular colour according to her mood, she is great to read.
As the events at the institute worsen and Caffrey is called in. More and more plot elements effortlessly fall into place and the result is a cleverly constructed novel that is well paced. Caffrey’s involvement on the case feels natural as the two stories converge.
The ending is well handled and extremely satisfying. Reading some of the reviews now I have read the story I am slightly confused by the low rating some have given the books and their reasoning. “Poppet” is a solid entry into the Caffrey series aided by the fact that it has a strong plot as a backbone.
Having said that, I am slightly confused over the direction of the series. Mo Hayder wrote two fantastic books and then changed direction by relocating Jack Caffrey. The new books followed the “walking man,” and hinted at a larger story. However, in this entry the walking man is mentioned briefly and the series seems to have moved on. I just hope Mo Hayder knows where she is going.
My rating: 8.6